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Anderson’s Dilemma

(July 1935)

From New International, Vol. II No. 7, July 1935, p. 143. [1]
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Puzzled America
By Sherwood Anderson.
287 pp. New York. Charles Scribner’s Sons. $2.50.

It is important that books of this kind should be written. It is unfortunate that this particular book is not better in its kind. Puzzled America is an assembly of sketches, “attempts at pictures of America now ... the result of a good deal of wandering about”. In such attempts the artist, if he is sensitive, honest, impersonal, can tell us much that we need to know. He can disclose states of mind, attitudes, conscious responses that individuals and even masses are making to the developing social process. To a limited, a very limited, extent Anderson accomplishes such a disclosure. In oddly assorted impressions of persons he met in the South and the Middle West, he shows the unstable, directionless mood that now possesses the country. He finds this mood variously reflected in miners, small business men, union textile workers, farmers, the unemployed. And, as we read on, the mood becomes more closely defined: it is not hopeless, but confused; it is not exhausted, but rather waiting; it is neither conservative nor revolutionary, but so far without formulated goal or aim.

Without making the mistake of overestimating psychological factors, it should be understood that such a mood is critical in a very real sense. It is critical because it cannot last for an length of time. It must find directions and set itself goals. This is the momentous decision; and, particularly for the middle classes, the decision will be determined in part at least by the clarity and strength with which the conscious social forces – the revolutionary party and the parties of reaction – formulate a direction and a goal. We complain sometimes that the long years of depression have failed to “radicalize the American masses” to the degree that might have been expected. But if it is true that this mood has now been widely attained; if it is true that Americans are finished with their four years of looking back to pre-1929 and are rapidly ending their two-year illusions of the milk and honey of the New Deal, then the depression has done its share. We cannot leave the whole job to history.

But Anderson has not limited himself to a recording of this mood. In earlier days Anderson systematically distorted the impressions he received through an odd sexual lens. In middle age he is abandoning sex for “the social problem”. I should be the last to maintain that a correct social position can make a man a good writer. But it is nevertheless true that a false social position can, at the present time, prevent a man from writing well, particularly if he tries to make social matters part of the content of his writing. This Anderson does; and we find Puzzled America shot through with what might be called social sentimentality, just as his earlier books were clouded by a special kind of sexual sentimentality. Let us hope that it is this, and not an impersonal reflection of the mood he is describing, that accounts for the emergence of the CCC, Rush Holt and Floyd Olson as the heroes of his book.



Note by ETOL

1. In the printed edition of The New International the title of this review has been swapped in error with the neighboring article, which is entitled In Seach of Diana by Harry Roskolenkier.

Last updated: 26 February 2016