Topic 59 – Political, social and economic evolution in the united states from 1945. Its significance in foreign affairs. Current literary panorama in the united states

Topic 59 – Political, social and economic evolution in the united states from 1945. Its significance in foreign affairs. Current literary panorama in the united states



1.1. Aims of the unit.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.


2.1. During the World War II (1939-1945).

2.2. After the World War II: the Cold War (1945-1960s).

2.2.1 The 1940s.

2.2.2. The 1950s.

2.2.3. The 1960s.

2.2.4. The 1970s.

2.2.5. The 1980s.

2.2.6. The 1990s.

2.2.7. The early twenty-first century.

2.3. The US political relevance at international level.


3.1. Main literary features.

3.2. Main authors.

3.2.1. Poetry.

3.2.2. Drama.

3.2.3. Prose.





1.1. Aims of the unit.

The present unit, Unit 59, aims to provide a useful introduction to the political, social and economic development in the United States since 1945 up to the present day, and also, its political relevance at international level. With this background in mind we aim at reviewing the present-day literary background of the time and, therefore, the life, works and style of the most representative authors in this period. Actually, we shall analyse how these authors reflected the prevailing ideologies of the day in the literature of the time which, following Speck (1998), is an account of literary activity in which social, economic, cultural and political allegiances are placed very much to the fore.

This is reflected in the organization of the unit, which is divided into five main chapters, namely devoted to establish the link between the literary activity and the main social, economic and political changes which took place after the WWII up to the present-day situation in the United States. It is worth noting that we do not try to establish a clear-cut division of time (1950s,

1960s, 1970s) or powers (political, social, economic) in our study as, sometimes, events are linked to each other so closely that we cannot draw a sharp line between them. Yet, we try to offer an overall view of the development of these two countries in terms of time (since we examine their history through decades) and powers (since political, social and economic events are interconnected).

Chapter 2 namely offers a historical background for the political, social and economic development in the United States since 1945 and its political relevance at internationa level so as to provide an overall view of the context in which the most representative authors lived and produced their works. In doing so, we shall divide our presentation in two main sections regarding the main events occurred during and after the World War II (1941- 1945) up to the present-day in political, social and economic terms: (1) during the World War II (1939-1945), and (2) after the World War II, which coincided in part with the the Cold War (1945-1960s), thus (a) the 1940s, (b) 1950s, (c) 1960s, (d) 1970s, (e) the 1980s, (f) the 1990s, and (g) the early twenty-first century.

In Chapter 3, with this historical overview in mind, we shall provide a literary background of the period which ranges from 1945 to the present day with the aim of going further into the XXth and XXIst-century North American literature and, therefore, into the most representative authors and their masterpieces within the three main literary forms: poetry, drama and prose.

Therefore, we shall approach XXth and XXIst-century literature by examining (1) the main literary features of the period and the (2) most representative authors and their works in (a) poetry, (b) drama and (c) prose. Actually, since there is a great amount of poets since 1945 to nowadays, we shall namely focus on the most representative ones in terms of themes and main works. Further details on their lives will be not mentioned unless necessary.

In Chapter 4 will be devoted to the main educational implications in language teaching regarding the introduction of this issue in the classroom setting. Chapter 5 will offer a conclusion to broadly overview our present study, and Chapter 6 will include all the bibliographical references used to develop this presentation.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.

An influential introduction to the political, social and economic development in the United States since 1945 and its political relevance at international level is based on Thoorens, Panorama de las literaturas Daimon: Inglaterra y América del Norte. Gran Bretaña y Estados Unidos de América (1969); Palmer, Historia Contemporánea (1980); Musman, Background to the USA (1982); Brogan, The History of the United States of America (1985); and Philips, Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich (2002).

On the present-day literary background, relevant works are: Bradbury & Temperley, Introduction to American Studies (1981); Rogers, The Oxford Illustrated History of English Literature (1987); Magnusson & Goring, Cambridge Biographical Dictionary (1990); Albert, A History of English Literature (1990); Ward & Trent, The Cambridge History of English and American Literature (2000); and VanSpanckeren, Outline of American Literature (2004).

The background for educational implications is based on the theory of communicative competence and communicative approaches to language teaching are provided by the most complete record of current publications within the educational framework is provided by the guidelines in B.O.E. (2004) for both E.S.O. and Bachillerato; the Council of Europe, Modern Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. A Common European Framework of reference (1998); and van Ek and Trim, Vantage (2001). Other sources include Enciclopedia Larousse

2000 (2000); and Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century (1999).


Chapter 2 namely offers a historical background for the political, socia l and economic development in the United States since 1945 so as to provide an overall view of the context in which the most representative authors of the period lived and produced their works. It must be borne in mind that WWII not only had important consequences for Europe, but also for the United States, which reaffirmed its political relevance at international level.

So, we shall go further into details after presenting the outline of this chapter, which is divided in two main sections regarding the ma in events occurred during and after the World War II (1941-1945) up to the present-day in political, social and economic terms: (1) during the World War II (1939-1945) , and (2) after WWII, which coincided in the first two decades with the the Cold War (1945-1960s), in (a) the 1940s, (b) 1950s, (c) 1960s, (d) 1970s, (e) the 1980s, (f) the

1990s, and (g) the early twenty-first century.

First of all, it may be relevant to review all the presidents of the United States during and after the WWII so as to get an overall view of the political panorama. Therefore, we open the WWII period with the democrat presidence of F.D. Roosevelt (1933-45) and Harry S. Truman (1945-

52), followed by the Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-61); the democrats J.F. Kennedy (1961-63) and L.B. Johnson (1963- 69); the republicans Richard M. Nixon (1969-73) and Gerald Ford (1974- 77); the democrat presidence of Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), soon to be replaced by the republican office of Ronald Reagan (1981-89) and George Bush, father, (1989-93); the democrat Bill Clinton (1993-2001); and currently, the presidence of George W. Bush, son (2001-2004).

2.1. During the World War II (1939-1945).

It worth remembering that Germany’s aggressiveness in 1939 forced Roosevelt to take a tougher stance. When Hitler overran Poland in September and triggered the formal beginning of World War II, Roosevelt tried again for repeal of the embargo, and succeeded. Thus, when France fell and England came under siege in 1940, he began to send Great Britain all possible aid short of actual military involvement. He negotiated an unneutral deal with Britain whereby the British leased their bases in the Western Hemisphere to the United States in return for 50

overaged American destroyers. Roosevelt also secured vastly increased defense expenditures, but he remained cautious. Yet, when campaigning for reelection in 1940 against Wendell Willkie, a relatively progressive Republican who agreed with some of his policies, Roosevelt’s margin fell sharply from his previous reelection.

However, safely reelected, Roosevelt increased the flow of supplies to Britain. After Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, help went to the Russians as well. To protect the supplies against German submarines, U.S. destroyers began escorting convoys of Allied ships part way across the Atlantic. In the process when a German submarine fired a torpedo at the American destroyer Greer in September 1941, he feigned surprise and outrage and ordered U. S. warships to shoot on sight at hostile German ships. By December the United States and Germany were engaged in an undeclared war on the Atlantic.

America, though a neutral in the war and still at peace, was becoming the heart of democracy, as its factories began producing as they had in the years before the Depression. However, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Roosevelt directed organization of the Nation’s manpower and resources for global war. The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor followed four days later by Germany’s and Italy’s declarations of war against the United States, brought the nation irrevocably into the war.

Roosevelt became the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, a role he actively carried out. He worked with and through his military advisers, overriding them when necessary, and took an active role in choosing the principle field commanders and in making decisions regarding wartime strategy. Feeling that the future peace of the world would depend upon relations between the United States and Russia, he devoted much thought to the planning of a United Nations, in which, he hoped, international difficulties could be settled.

He moved to create a great alliance against the Axis powers through “The Declaration of the United Nations” on January 1, 1942, in which all nations fighting the Axis agreed not to make a separate peace and pledged themselves to a peacekeeping organization (now the United Nations) on victory. The United States and its allies invaded North Africa in November 1942 and Sicily and Italy in 1943. The D-Day landings on the Normandy beaches in France on June

6, 1944, were followed by the allied invasion of Germany six months later. By April 1945

victory in Europe was certain.

As the war drew to a close, Roosevelt’s health was seriously deteriorated. By early 1944 a full medical examination disclosed serious heart and circulatory problems and although his physicians placed him on a strict regime of diet and medication, the pressures of war and domestic politics weighed heavily on him. On Apr il 12, 1945, while at Warm Springs, Georgia,

he suffered a massive stroke and died of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 63 years old and his death came on the eve of complete military victory in Europe and within months of victory over Japan in the Pacific. President Roosevelt was buried in the Rose Garden of his estate at Hyde Park, New York.

2.2. After WWII: the Cold War (1945-1967).

The beginning of the Cold War is still an issue of disagreement since historians disagree as to who was responsible for the breakdown of the United States and the Soviet Union relations and whether the conflict between the two superpowers was inevitable. On the one hand, only a few American historians affirm that the war was the direct result of Stalin’s violation of the Yalta accords between the Big Three Allied Leaders (Prime Minister Winston Churchill (UK), President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (US) and First Secretary Joseph Stalin (USSR)), the imposition of Soviet-dominated governments on an unwilling Eastern Europe, and aggressive Soviet expansionism. However, other historians have argued that the United States provocations and imperial ambitions were at least equally to blame, if not more.

Actually, the US-Soviet wartime alliance traces back to the 1890s when, after a century of friendship, both political powers became rivals over the development of Manchuria. Then, Russians closed off and colonize parts of East Asia since they felt unable to compete industrially with Americans, who demanded open competition for markets. As a result, the Soviet government negotiated a separate peace with Germany in the First World War in 1917, leaving the Western Allies to fight the Central Powers alone.

2.2.1. The 1940s.

When the war ended in Europe on May 8, 1945, Soviet and Western (US, British, and French) troops were located in particular places, essentially, along a line in the center of Europe that came to be called the Oder-Neisse Line, which would be the ‘iron curtain’ of the Cold War. As World War II had resulted in enormous destruction of infrastructure and populations throughout Eurasia, from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, Russians were especially scathed due to the mass destruction of the industrial base that it had built up in the previous decade. The only major industrial power in the world to emerge intact, and even greatly strengthened from an economic perspective, was the United States, which moved swiftly to consolidate its position.

Since then capitalism and communism (US and USSR, respectively) represented the national ideologies of two different ways of life. Conflicting models of autarky versus exports, of state planning against free enterprise, were to vie for the allegiance of the developing and developed world in the postwar years. Even so, however, the Cold War was not obviously inevitable in

1945 and the expected postwar crisis of overproduction in capitalists countries did not arrive. Instead, the United States led by President Harry S. Truman since April 1945 were determined to open up the world’s markets to capitalist trade according to the principles laid down by the Atlantic Charter: self-determination, equal economic access, and a rebuilt capitalist Europe that could again serve as a hub in world affairs.

Following Bradbury & Temperley (1981), since the Soviet Union continued to pressure on Western nations by supporting Communist guerrillas in Greece and Turkey, the British government declared that they could no longer afford to continue its aid to these two countries. Hence the so-called Truman Doctrine, by means of which the United States assumed the classic British role of balancer, and, therefore, had a huge political relevance as the protector of Western interests in the Mediterranean.

In 1947 the Marshall Plan (or Europe Recovery Program) was proposed by George Marshall, the Secretary of State, so as to meet the Communist threat and restore a strong economy in Europe. Thanks to it, economic co-operation developed satisfactorily, recovery was steady, and Western Europe began a process of getting Americanised, adopting American way of life: soft drinks, fooed and dress, music (American jazz), machine tools and mass-production machines. By the late years of the 1940s, the Point Four Program (1949) was also proposed by Truman with the aim of extending the same sort of aid to underdeveloped countries, though was launched the next year (1950).

It is relevant to remember that in the same year 1949 Truman joined eleven other nations to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which meant America’s first European alliance in 170 years. Stalin retaliated against these provocative steps by integrating the economies of Eastern Europe and signing an alliance with Communist China in February 1959 and forming the Warsaw Pact, which was the Eastern Europe’s counterpart to NATO.

2.2.2. The 1950s.

Since the Crimean War in the 1950s, a perennial focus of Anglo-American foreign policy was to impede Soviet access to the Mediterranean (Greece). Hence Soviets were contained by the United States that launched massive economic reconstruction efforts, first in Western Europe and then in Japan (as well as in South Korea and Taiwan). The mentioned Marshall Plan began

to raise the economy in Western Europe and the United States showed an overwhelming productive superiority. Furthermore, economic reconstruction helped create clientlistic obligations on the part of the nations receiving US aid; this sense of obligation fostered willingness to enter into military alliances and, even more important, into political subservience.

Confronted with growing Soviet successes to respond to provocative Western actions, the United States officials quickly strengthen their alliance systems, quadruple defense spending, and embark on an elaborate propaganda campaign to convince Americans to fight this costly cold war. Truman ordered the development of a hydrogen bomb and in early 1950 the USA embarked on its first attempt to form a West German army as well as it established the first commitment to form a peace treaty with Japan that would guarantee long-term US military bases.

Fearing that a united communist Korea could neutralize the United States power in Japan, Truman committed American forces and obtained help from the United Nations to drive back the North Koreans to Stalin’s surprise. Considered as a historic error, Truman sent his forces to the Chinese-Korean border, and the People’s Republic of China responded with human-wave attacks in November 1950 that decimated US-led forces. Truman faced a hostile China, a Sino- Soviet partnership, and a bloated defense budget that quadrupled in eighteen months. Yet, it was not the first time that the United States interfered in the internal affairs and sovereignty of other countries under the guise of freedom, democracy and human rights the Iranian regime in 1953 and that of Guatemala).

By 1953, the new president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, moved to end the Korean War, reduced military expenses, but continued fighting the Cold War effectively. Also, Eisenhower thwarted Soviet intervention wielding American nuclear superiority and used the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to overthrow unfriendly governments. Yet, in the meantime, a new, dynamic and reformist Soviet leader, Nikita Khurshchev established good relations with India and other noncommunist states in the Third World. To stabilize his European position, the new Russian leader created the Warsaw Pact in 1955 to counter West German rearmament (and later on would build the Berlin Wall in 1961 to stop the Germans from leaving the communist East). Hence Eisenhower increased Soviet power by developing a hydrogen bomb and, in 1957, he launched the first earth satellite. While the Berlin Wall was a propaganda setback, the Soviets garnered a huge victory when Krushchev formed an alliance with Cuba after Fidel Castro’s successful revolution in 1959 (still living on to this day).

Socially speaking and in general terms, the 1950s were years of stability and prosperity for the white American middle class. The growth of consumerism, the suburbs, and the economy, however, overshadowed the fact that prosperity did not extend to everyone. More than 30

million Americans, according to some estimates, continued to live in poverty throughout the Eisenhower years. By then, a large segment of the population felt the rhetoric of the Cold War policy (freedom and democracy) was especially far from reality. In fact, African Americans in the South continued to suffer from social, economic, and political discrimination.

This economic prosperity was to be especially felt at the center of middle -class culture which was consumer-driven, since there was a growing absorption of consumer goods which resulted from the increasingly variety and availability of products at creating demand. So, between the

1950 and 1960s a large number of Americans responded to consumer crazes such as the

automobile as dishwashers, garbage disposals, televisions, and stereos (Brogan, 1985). Also, the continuation of the Cold War was emphasized in the public opinion when in 1957 the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik, the first artificial earth satellite. This seemed to shift the world balance of power to the Soviet Union until 1958, when the United States launched and earth satellite.

By this time in Southeast Asia the controversial war in Vietnam continued year after year with increasing U.S. involvement. In Europe the key element in U.S. military strategy, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (N.A.T.O.), suffered a severe setback in 1966 when France declared its intention of withdrawing its forces and requested the removal of all NATO installations from French soil. The proliferation of nuclear weapons, with both France and Communist China setting off nuclear explosions during the decade, treatly complicated the prospects for disarmament and world peace.

Following Bradbury & Temperley (1981), as Eisenhower’s second term neared its end in 1960, the two major U.S. political parties nominated young presidental candidates. The Republican nominee, Vice-President Richard M. Nixon of California (aged 47), and Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts (aged 43). Nixon’s campaign was devoted to defending the record of the Eisenhower administration while Kennedy’s main contention was that the Eisenhower administration had been lacking in vigour and imagination. Eventually, Kennedy beat Nixon on

8 November 1961

2.2.3 The 1960s.

This decade started with the election of the first Roman Catholic young man, John F. Kennedy, as president of the United States (20 January 1961). His first year in office saw several important events, such as an abortive invasion of Cuba (1961) at Pig’s Bay by secretly trained forces supplied by the U.S.; a personal meeting with Soviet premier Khrushchev in Vienna (1962), and a continuation of Cold War tensions. Also, in 1963 US diplomats, the Soviet Union

and the United Kingdom signed a nuclear test-ban treaty in Moscow in order to stop all testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water.

Yet, Kennedy’s presidence was not meant to last since he was assassinated in Dallas (Texas) on

22 November 1963, and with no delay, Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office as the 36th U.S.A. President at Dallas airport. Foreign affairs under Johnson’s administration were mainly focused on the Vietnam War, for instance, by helping South Vietnam defend against the Viet Cong, or by ordering the bombing of North Vietnamese military targets while announcing his willingness to negotiate a peace settlement.

In 1968 a rising public opposition to the Vietnam war rose sharply since neither side seemed able to achieve a military victory. Nixon’s administration saw the progressive withdrawal of U.S. troops in Vietnam and serious peace negotiations. Eventually, by 27 January 1973 the desired cease-fire was finally signed after long periods of conversations and disagreement, but it was not until April 1975 that war problems ended definitely under the Republican Presidency of Gerald Ford (1974-78). Due to the Watergate Scandal in the 1973’s election campaign, Nixon was forced to resign and Gerald Ford succeeded him as the next President of the United States.

Regarding the non-political background, by 1960 the postwar prosperity continued and American suburbs grew. As a result, the United States auto-manufacturers responded to the boom with ever-flashier automobiles (Detroit). Soon innovations of the single -family housing market started to appear, for instance, in housing development and mass-production techniques. In fact, suburbs provided larger homes for larger families, security form urban living, privacy, and space for consumer goods. Still, the key factor motivating white Americans to move from the suburbs was race.The main reason was that most suburbs were restricted to whites since few African Americans could afford to live in them. The few African Americans who ventured into suburbs were generally clamored to leave.

Aside from this, we must include the opposition of the nationalist prime minister of Iran (Mohammed Mossadegh) towards the neocolonial presence of Western corporations in his nation because of oil wells. Convinced that this Western client state was shifting toward an independent foreign policy, Eisenhower used the CIA forces to overthrow Iran’s government. Then the United States replaced Mossadegh by elevating the young Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi from the role of constitutional monarch to that of an absolute ruler. In return, the Shah allowed American companies to share in the development of his nation’s reserves and remained a close ally for twenty-five years, even as his regime was becoming increasingly hated and despotic. As we can see, Iran is yet another example of the parallels between 1950s and contemporary United States’ foreign policy (Palmer, 1980).

2.2.4. The 1970s.

In 1974 the Republican Ford reached an agreement with the Soviet Union about the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and next year another trade agreement was signed, under which the U.S. would supply grain to the Soviet Union in return for petroleum. In 1978 Jimmy Carter’s administration began with firm proposals for reform of the government, federal welfare and social security systems. On the other hand, this year coincided with the major crisis in Iran, and riots against the pro-United States Iranian government ended with an important event, the Shah was forced to leave Iran (1979).

Popular anger eventually culminated in the Islamic Revolution, which led to a hostage crisis that would perhaps later bring down the Carter administration. The Islamic Republic of Iran imposed an absolutist regime and formed part of President Bush’s so-called “Axis of Evil” along with North Korea. Moreover, the foreign interventionism of the Eisenhower administration still resonates to this day, since the United States deposed the Iraqi regime in 2003, inspired by Nasser’s secular Arab nationalism and populist social policies.

Thus, the Suez stalemate was a turning point on the United States hegemony since this event heralded an ever-growing rift between the Atlantic over North America. The West Europeans, with the exclusion of the British until 1971, also developed their own nuclear forces as well as an economy Common Market to be less dependent on Washington. As a result, the American economic competitiveness faltered in the face of the challenges of Japan and West Germany, which have recovered rapidly from the wartime decimation of the industrial bases. As another example of shifting courses among the increasingly independent-minded Western allies, we include France, which opposed the United States adventurism in the Middle East during the

2003 pre-emptive attack on Iraq, a reversal of roles from the Suez crisis (VanSpanckeren,


2.2.5. The 1980s.

The eighties are dominated by the presidency of the Republican Ronald Reagan (1980-), former governor of California, and his chief challenger, George Bush, who became the vice- presidential nominee. During his successful 1980 campaign, Reagan made several promises, such as to restore the nation’s military strength, which produced massive increases in military spending, and combined with his massive tax cuts, the nation paid a high price for his defense policies as well as indirectly, the Soviet Union for Reagan’s commitment to the Cold War.

The neoconservative movement was a strong influence on Reagan’s foreign policy adventures, and in particular from Jeanne Kirkpatrick (fond of rightwing dictatorships) who argued that the installation of rightwing dictatorships was acceptable and essential. Hence Reagan’s administration actively supported the dictatorships of Augusto Pinochet, Ferdinand Marcos and the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. So, he campaigned, at home, against the relentless increase of big government and for a cent in income taxes and defense build up; regarding foreign affairs his years in office are characterized by his determination to strengthen U.S. arms and his attitude towards the Soviet Union, by reducing the relationship between these two countries to their lowest levels. Actually, the 1980s opened the decade with a boycott of the Moscow Summer Olympic Games (August 1980) due to the bad relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union (since the latter invaded Afghanistan in 1979).

Reagan also promised an end to the drift in post-Vietnam and post-Iran hostage US foreign policy, a restoration of the nation’s military strength, and the economic health by an experiment known as ‘supply-side’ economics. However, all these aims were not reconcilable through a coherent economic policy and in 1981 the U.S. economy began to slide into the recession and the worst turn since the Great Depression under Reagan’s Presidency. Reagan’s election was a key turning point in American politics since it signaled the new electoral power of the suburbs as well as the commitment to a militaristic, aggressive foreign policy.

In 1982, Reagan’s politicized economic program was beset with difficulties since unemployment rose considerably. Reagan combined the tight-money regime of the Federal Reserve with an expansionary fiscal policy and, by the middle of 1983, unemployment began its decline and a radical drop in oil prices moved the U.S. economy into one of the strongest postwar recoveries. In 1984 the recession was clearly waning, and without a resurgence of inflation, which had begun its retreat from the double figures of the Carter years as early as

1981. By the end of 1985, funding for domestic programs had been cut nearly as far as Congress

could tolerate as well as the sale of arms in Iran in an unsuccessful effort to free U.S. hostages in Lebanon.

The late 1980s are characterized by the first Bush administration (1988) with the Irongate scandal caused by selling secret arms to Iran. and the Persian Gulf War, which was the first major test of the post-Cold War order. After the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq was left bankrupt and his President Saddam Hussein felt he had positioned Iraq as a bulwark against the expansion of Iran’s Islamic Revolution (1979). Actually, Iraq needed money since it needed to rebuild its infrastructure after the war. Although Iraq had borrowed a tremendous amount of money from other Arab states, it was only the United States that would lend it money, an event that made

Saddam’s regime be a virtual client state of the US. Since the war profits were to be obtained by other Gulf Arab states and even the United States, Iraq decided that all debts should be forgiven. Yet, Kuwait disagreed with this decision and started a conflict with Iraq, by drilling oil out of wells in the limit border with Kuwait.

2.2.6. The 1990s.

In 1990, Iraq asked the United States for help about Kuwait’s action. After years of conflict, since Iraq needed oil revenues to pay off its debts and avert an economic crisis, Saddam ordered troops to the Iran-Kuwait border, creating alarm over the prospect of an invasion. After a failed negotiation session, Saddam finally sent his troops into Kuwait. Then two of the five members of the NATO (US and Britain) convinced the Security Council to give Iraq a deadline to leave, but eventually a reluctant Security Council declared war on Iraq. After the Gulf War, Iraq was expelled from Kuwait under President George Bush’s proposal of “a New World Order.”

In the United States, Bush enjoyed the success of the Gulf War, and as a result, he launched the free trade program under the heading ‘Iniciative for the Americas’ (1991) and also, a Treaty of Free Trade which was signed by the United States, Canada and Mexico (1992). However, economic problems caused him not to be elected once more and this time it was the Democratic nominee Bill Clinton who won the elections (1993-2001) on promising reforms at social and economic level. Actually, the following year witnessed solid increases in real output, low inflation rates, and a substantial drop in unemployment.

Yet, in 1994 Clinton was accused of obtaining illegal economic support for his presidential campaing, best known as the Whitewater scandal, which was not to be the only scandal in which this democratic President would be involved, note his worldwide affair with Monica Levinski. On the other hand, at international level the U.S. supported the reforms made by the Russian President Boris Yeltsin. In 1995 a peace treaty was signed (the Treaty of Dayton) so as to put an end to the Bosnia -Herzegovina war. Moreover, next year the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba worsened since a stronger blockage on the island was passed by the Helms-Burton law (1996). The same year welfare reform legislation was enacted (1996) and stated that, first, people had to work as a condition of receiving benefits and, second, limits were imposed on how long individuals may receive payments.

2.2.7. The early twenty-first century.

The following years saw President Clinton involved in an embarrassing scandal related to sexual affairs, which damaged seriously the image of the most powerful country in the world. As a result, Clinton lost the next elections and on 13 December 2000, and Republican George W. Bush was elected as the 43rd President of the United States because of his compassionate reputation and strong policy based on the principles of limited government, local control and personal responsibility. However, his first year in office witnessed the horrifying effects of islamic terrorrism on 11 September 2001, when four commercial aeroplanes were hijacked by islamic extremists.Two aeroplanes crashed into the worldwide twin towers of the Trade World Center in New York, another one into the Pentagon in Washington and the fourth of them in Pennsylvania. The result was devasting: thousands of people died in the attacks and the whole world feared the black shadow of a possible third world war. In economic terms, the response to the terrorist attacks of September 11 showed the remarkable resilience of the economy. Moderate recovery was to be felt in 2002 with a growth rate, though there was a sharp decline in the stock market, fueled in part by the exposure of dubious accounting practices in some major corporations.

Since then, the menace of terrorism caused the political intervention of the United States in Afghanistan so as to find and punish the leader of that horror, Osama bin Laden, who is still missing since he is heavily protected by the Taliban regime and the terrorist group “al Qaeda.” Moreover, having considered the Taliban regime as an international menace for the so-called weapons of mass destruction , the former dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, was captured alive on 13 December 2003 by the United States military forces near a farmhouse outside the city of Tikrit. He now will face the justice since under his regime Afghnistan’s population was brutalised, suffered from starvation, and specially for women, was deprived of education and personal freedom.

According to President Bush’s speech on 14 December 2003 (Office of the Press Secretary,

2003) , “the capture of this man was crucial to the rise of a free Iraq. It marks the end of the road for him, and for all who bullied and killed in his name. For the Baathist holdouts largely responsible for the current violence, there will be no return to the corrupt power and privilege they once held. For the vast majority of Iraqi citizens who wish to live as free men and women, this event brings further assurance that the torture chambers and the secret police are gone forever.”

The United Nations then set up an Advisory Group, bringing its country members and the UN Security Council together to highlight the importance of international support, particularly from countries in the region in taking forward the transition process in Iraq. The Damascus Declaration (2 November 2003) formed a follow-up group in relation with the evolving situation in Iraq. Thirteen days later, the signing of the Politic al Process Agreement in Iraq (15

November 2003), became fully focused to entrust the Iraqi transition to where it rightfully belongs: for the Iraqis to assume their full sovereignty so as to establish a fully representative form of government. Yet, terror has already caused heavy losses and untold suffering to all segments of the Iraqi society, not only at home but at international level.

Actually, the coalition countries which have sacrificed in both Iraq and Afghanistan are sons and daughters of Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Yet, in these months,the strong three-fold alliance of Great Britain and Spain with the United States on the threat of terrorism, had the most terrible outcome on 11 March 2004 when a group of al-Qaeda terrorists caused the chaos in Madrid in Atocha and surroundings. This new kind of war is different from the previous ones, said President Bush (Office of the Press Secretary, 2004), since in recent years, terrorists have struck from Spain, to Russia, to Israel, to East Africa, to Morocco, to the Philippines, and to America. They’ve also targeted Arab states such as Sa udi Arabia, Jordan, and Yemen, and have attacked Muslims in Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. So, no nation or regio n is exempt from the terrorists’ campaign of violence.

The attack in Madrid coincided with the Spanish General Elections, so the new President, Jose Luis Zapatero, decided to withdraw the troops from Irak so as to avoid more terrorist attacks and, therefore, his three-fold treaty with the US and the United Kingdom. Also, by the end of this month, the Iraqi Governing Council is expected to produce a “Transitional Administrative Law”, which will constitute the first milestone in the process, as this legislation will provide the framework within which Iraq will be governed until the new constitution is adopted by popular vote and free general elections are held. It will be for the benefit of all denominations and political movements in Iraq if the Iraqi Governing Council drafts the transitional law in a manner that will establish an accountable and representative transitory administrative structure upholding Iraq’s national unity.

In the Political Transition Plan, end of June, 2004 is marked as the deadline for handing over full sovereignty to the Iraqis. This requires the full involvement and representation of all components of the Iraqi society in the formation of the Transitional National Assembly and thus

the sovereign transitional Government. If this objective is achieved, it will have mainly one immedia te effect: the withdrawal of the United States troops and, therefore, his dominance on the Iraq political field. Yet, the future still seems uncertain for both (Philips, 2002).

2.3. The US political relevance at international level.

As stated above, since its intervention in the WWII (1941), the US has reaffirmed time after time its dominance in the international economic field as a superpower nation. It is worth noting that whereas in the WWI the main weights in the balance were still predominantly European (Great Britain, France and Russia ; Germany, Austria), at the end of the WWII, the main weights on each scale were entirely non-European, as it is the case of the United States, Japan and the Soviet Union. Yet, in the early twenty-first century, the Soviet Union is no longer regarded as a great leader, but Japan, the European Community and the United States. So, we can see that the centre of World Politics shifted from Europe to America and Asia and how quickly the US took leadership in Western countries.

Hence, the new international order, namely managed by the US and its western allies, dominated the world scene by means of bilateral state trading practises. So, under the US leadership the post-war structure of trade and finance was deliberatey grounded on institutions to facilitate multilateral trade expansion, currency stability and international capital investment. It must be borne in mind that the basis for the economic dominance of the US is that it enjoys a self-sufficient production system, and actually, the US dollar became the world’s currency standard. Also, the United States create d a series of organisms to defend themselves against Eastern countries, hence the Marshall Plan (to rehabilitate European economies so as to meet the Communist threat) or the NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization so as to create a new defense force to resist Soviet Agression).

Since the main customers of this bilateral trading practise were underdeveloped countries, the trade is namely concern with politically balanced countries and their supplying of primary products from American companies, such as General Motors, General Electric, and even food ones such as McDonalds. Also, at social level the US supremacy regarding economy, political power, and even average income and standard of living, provoked not only fear and respect from other country members but also a great deal of envy and dislike. Moreover, the US leadership is present from many different points of view when talking of sports, nobel prizes, clothes, food, technology (N.A.S.A.), American trends and, particularly, music and cinema.

Following George W. Bush in his speech on September 17, 2002, “the great struggles of the twentieth century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom—and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise. In the twenty-first century, only nations that share a commitment to protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing political and economic freedom will be able to unleash the potential of their people and assure their future prosperity.” Today, the United States enjoys a position of unparalleled military strength and great economic and political influence since the world’s great powers are on the same side, united by common dangers of terrorist violence and chaos.

Also, he added that “Today, The United States will build on these common interests to promote global security.We are also increasingly united by common values. Russia is in the midst of a hopeful transition, reaching for its democratic future and a partner in the war on terror. Chinese leaders are discovering that economic freedom is the only source of national wealth. In time, they will find that social and political freedom is the only source of national greatness. America will encourage the advancement of democracy and economic openness in both nations, because these are the best foundations for domestic stability and international order. We will strongly resist aggression from other great powers—even as we welcome their peaceful pursuit of prosperity, trade, and cultural advancement.”

Finally, he stated that “the United States will use this moment of opportunity to extend the benefits of freedom across the globe” and that it “will stand beside any nation determined to build a better future by seeking the rewards of liberty for its people . Free trade and free markets have proven their ability to lift whole societies out of poverty—so the United States will work with individual nations, entire regions, and the entire global trading community to build a world that trades in freedom and therefore grows in prosperity. The United States will deliver greater development assistance through the New Millennium Challenge Account to nations that govern justly, invest in their people, and encourage economic freedom.We will also continue to lead the world in efforts to reduce the terrible toll of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.”

Under the common balance of power, he said that “alliances and multilateral institutions can multiply the strength of freedom- loving nations”, adding that “the United States is committed to lasting institutions like the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the Organization of American States, and NATO as well as other long-standing alliances. Coalitions of the willing can augment these permanent institutions. In all cases, international obligations are to be taken seriously. They are not to be undertaken symbolically to rally support for an ideal wit hout furthering its attainment.”


In Chapter 3, with this historical overview in mind, we shall provide a literary background of the period which ranges from 1945 to the present day with the aim of going further into the XXth and XXIst-century North American literature and, therefore, into the most representative authors and their masterpieces within the three main literary forms: poetry, drama and prose. Therefore, we shall approach XXth and XXIst-century literature by examining (1) the main literary features of the period and the (2) most representative authors and their works in (a) poetry, (b) drama and (c) prose. Actually, since there is a great amount of poets since 1945 to nowadays, we shall namely focus on the most representative ones in terms of themes and main works. Further details on their lives will be not mentioned unless necessary.

3.1. Main literary features.

Yet, the “post-War years are reflected in the concern of many novelists about the disintegration of society, and their lack of positive optimism, while the frequency with which violence and sadism appear as themes is not surprising in a world grown accustomed to the thought of genocide, global conflict, and nuclear destruction” (Albert, 1990:563). Even nowadays, at the turn of century, globalisation, uncertainty and the question of terrorism are often reflected in literature as well as the still-relevant role of the United States within the political field.

Following VanSpanckeren (2004), the assumption that traditional forms, ideas, and history could provide meaning and continuity to human life has changed in the contemporary literary imagination throughout many parts of the world, including the United States. The violent events since World War II caused a disassociated sensibility in the United States and, therefore, a sense of history as discontinuous. Since then, style and form now seem provisional and reflexive as well as the process of composition and the writer’s self-awareness.

Originality is becoming the new tradition due to the long and varied catalog of shocks to American culture, such as the protest movements of the 1960s, the rise of anonymity and consumerism in a mass urban society, the decade-long Vietnam conflict, the Cold War, environmental threats, and more recently the change that has most transformed American society, the rise of the mass media and mass culture. First radio, then movies, and now an all- powerful television presence which has changed American life at its roots.

Broadly speaking, from the late 1950s to the present, Americans have been increasingly aware that technology, so useful in itself, presents dangers through the wrong kinds of striking images. the cultural equilibrium that sprang out as an original and vital literary movement in the previous half century was to be changed in this period. After 1945 to 1955, approximately, writers were then faced with the search of new directions, together with the emergence of Jewish, Blacks and women writers into the literary scence and, therefore, there was much new and vibrant writing.

Yet, we can talk about a second American literary renaissance (1955-1965) in which there was a literary revolution due to the cultural and technological progress. The multilateral exchange between the US and Europe helped the currents of culture flow, and the doors were similarly open to the Orient, particularly with India and Japan. The three-fold classification (drama, poetry and prose) seemed to be moving toward new creative impulses due to the truly cosmopolitan quality of the post-War culture.

Later on, factors another factor of change is drawn from the gradual shift in the philosophy underlying American literature from Naturalism to Existentialism, man’s relationship with God, nature, society, his fellow man and himself. Hence American writers in the XXth century, and even to the present day, saw the confrontation of the individual will by a mechanistic fate as the ultimate tragic issue of human experience. The issue of imminent threat and total destruction of all life has become a constant issue in modern man, who learns to depend upon intensity and objectivity. Hence the extremes of comedy, fantasy, natural disasters, perversion, war horror, terrorism and violence on the one hand and the range and depth of mystic and religious excitement on the other, which is the main feature of contemporary literature.

In short, the main themes in American literature focused on U.S. foreign policy, international trade, and a variety of issues and topics of interest worldwide, such as international security (news and information on U.S. foreign policy); economic issues (the latest on U.S. economic policies and foreign trade issues); global issues (U.S. policy and programs related to climate change, the environment, energy, world health, sustainable development, and other topics); democracy (information from the U.S. and multilateral sources on the growth of democracy around the world); human rights (information from the U.S. and multilateral sources on human rights issues around the world); and finally, society, culture and values (information on U.S. society, culture, and values).

3.2. Main authors.

3.2.1. Poetry.

Following Albert (1990), the period of the War produced much poetry and therefore, common themes were boredom, frustration of Service life, horror and tragedy, the waste, the appreciation of friendship, a deep understanding of the English landscape, and the possibility of violent death. Also, contemporary poetry, in accordance to present events, deals with the importance of union against terrorism, individuals and the advances of modern society, such as new technologies, average standard of living, love and death, and modern facilities, among others.

In general terms, American poetry has been directly influenced by mass media and electronic technology. Films, videotapes, and tape recordings of poetry readings and interviews with poets have become available, and new inexpensive photographic methods of printing have encouraged young poets to self-publish and young editors to begin literary magazines. To Americans seeking alternatives, poetry seems more relevant than before since it offers people a way to express subjective life and articulate the impact of technology and mass society on the individual by means of psychological and social subject matters which demanded explicit treatments of madness in literature.

Hence we find a host of styles since contemporary American poetry is decentralized, richly varie d, and impossible to summarize, for instance, the traditional, the idiosyncratic and the experimental, namely. The former poets ma inta ined or revitalized poetic traditions; idiosyncratic poets used both traditional and innovative techniq ues in creating unique voices; and finally, experimental poets courted new cultural styles. Actually, there is a great amount of poets since 1945 (John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Creeley, James Dickey, Richard Hugo, Philip Levine, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Adrieenne Rich, Theodore Roethke and Anne Sexton, among others) regarding these three different cultural styles, but we shall namely focus on the most representative ones.

So, we shall approach one writer of each style, for instance, Robert Lowell (1917- 1977) as an example of traditionalism (and later on experimental poetry); Anne Sexton (1928-1974) and Philip Levine (1928-) as an example of idiosyncratic poetry; and finally, among the different types of experimental poetry we may find (The Black Mountain School, The San Francisco School, Beat Poets, The New York School, and surrealism and experimentalism), we shall examine the main works and style of Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) within the group of Beat Poets and John Ashbery (1929-1999) within the New York School.

Robert Lowell (1917-1977) was he most influential recent poet, who began traditionally but was later on influenced by experimental currents. Because his life and work spans the period between the older modernist masters like Ezra Pound and the contemporary writers, his career places the later experimentalists in a larger context. Following VanSpanckeren (2004), “Lowell fits the mold of the academic writer: white, male, Protestant by birth, well-educated, and linked with the political and social establishment.”

“He was a descendant of the respected Boston Brahmin family” and “went to Kenyon College in Ohio, where he rejected his Puritan ancestry and converted to Catholicism. Jailed for a year as a conscientious objector in World War II, he later publicly protested the Vietnam conflict.” His early books are Land of Unlikeness (1944) and Lord Weary’s Castle (1946), “which won a Pulitzer Prize, and revealed great control of traditional forms and styles, strong feeling, and an intensely personal yet historical vision.”

“The violence and specificity of the early work is overpowering in poems like “Children of Light” (1946), a harsh condemnation of the Puritans who killed Indians and whose descendants burned surplus grain instead of shipping it to hungry people.” His “next book, The Mills of the Kavanaughs (1951), contains moving dramatic monologues in which members of his family reveal their tenderness and failings. As always, his style mixes the human with the majestic. Often he uses traditional rhyme, but his colloquialism disguises it until it seems like background melody. It was experimental poetry, however, that gave Lowell his breakthrough into a creative individual idiom.”

In the mid-1950s, Lowell heard some of the new experimental poetry for the first time. At this point Lowell, like many poets after him, accepted the challenge of learning from the rival tradition in America (the school of William Carlos Williams). Then “Lowell dropped many of his obscure allusions; his rhymes became integral to the experience within the poem instead of superimposed on it. The stanzaic structure, too, collapsed; new improvisational forms arose. In Life Studies (1959), he initiated confessional poetry, a new mode in which he bared his most tormenting personal problems with great honesty and intensity. In essence, he not only discovered his individuality but celebrated it in its most difficult and private manifestations. He transformed himself into a contemporary, at home with the self, the fragmentary, and the form as process.”

“Lowell’ transformation, a watershed for poetry after the war, opened the way for many younger writers. In For the Union Dead (1964), Notebook 1967-69 (1970), and later books, he continued his autobiographical explorations and technical innovations, drawing upon his experience of psychoanalysis. Lowell’s confessional poetry has been particularly influential. Works by John Berryman, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath (the last two his students), to mention only a few, are impossible to imagine without Lowell.”

Anne Sexton (1928-1974) was a passionate woman who was a poet on the eve of the women’s movement in the United States (1960s) and, also, since she suffered from mental illness, she committed suicide. Sexton’s poetry is characterized by being namely autobiographical and powerfully appealing to the emotions. Her main themes were taboo subjects such as sex, guilt, and suicide into close focus; and also, female topics such as childbearing, the female body, or marriage seen from a female point of view, hence her poem “Her Kind” (1960). In addition, the titles of her works indicate their concern with madness and death, such as To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960), Live or Die (1966), and the posthumous book The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975).

Philip Levine (1928-) was born in Detroit, Michigan, and his poetry deals directly with the economic sufferings of workers through keen observation, rage, and painful irony. With an urban and poor background, he has been the voice for the lonely individual caught up in industrial America. Much of his poetry is somber and reflects an anarchic tendency amid the realization that systems of government will endure. In one of his poems, Levine compares a man metaphorically with a fox so as to reflect the difficultry of surviving in a dangerous world through his courage. In terms of his rhythmic pattern, he has travelled a path from traditional meters in his early works to a freer, more open line in his later poetry as he expresses his lonely protest against the evils of the contemporary world.

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) reaffirmed himself as the heir of Whitman and Melville due to his namely oral, enumerative and magic poetry. In fact, his poetry is said to be daring, original, and sometimes shocking. Some might correctly see it as a great-grandparent of the rap music that became prevalent in the 1990s. In his search for new values, he claims affinity with the archaic world of myth, legend, and traditional societies such as those of the American Indian.

Within the group of Beat Poets, he challenged the 1950s poetry against current standards with a poetic representation of madness, produced by despair, drugs and a reaction against the heartlessness of contemporary American society. The feeling of the poet as the poem is written, and from the natural pauses of the spoken language. Among his most relevant works we include Aullido (1956), Kaddish (1961), Collected Poems 1947-1980 (1984), White Shroud Poems

1980-1985 (1987), and Improvised Poetics (1988), where Ginsberg noted his most famous statement: “first thought best thought.”

John Ashbery (1929-1999), on the other hand, belongs to the New York School which, unlike the Beat and San Franciso poets, is not interested in overtly moral questions, and, in general, they steer clear of political issues. The New York School Poets are said to have the best formal educations of any group, in fact, it is worth noting that New York City is the fine arts center of America and the birthplace of Abstract Expressionism, a major inspiration of this poetry. Most of the poets worked as art reviewers or museum curators, or collaborated with painters.

They are quintessentially urban, cool, nonreligious, witty with a poignant, pastel sophistication. Their poems are fast moving, full of urban detail, incongruity, and an almost palpable sense of suspended belief. Perhaps because of their feeling for abstract art, which distrusts figurative shapes and obvious meanings, their work is often difficult to comprehend, as in the later work of John Ashbery (1927- ), perhaps the most influential poet writing today.

Ashbery’s fluid poems record thoughts and emotions as they wash over the mind too swiftly for direct articulation. His profound, long poem, Self -Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975), which won three major prizes, glides from thought to thought, often reflecting back on itself.

3.2.2. Drama.

The main literary features of the time also affected drama, and the main playwrights also showed the horror of war, the insecurity and meaninglessness of a frivolous world, and the personal development of the population. In a sense, following VanSpanckeren (2004), “American drama imitated English and European theatre until well into the 20th century. Often, plays from England or translated from European languages dominated theatre seasons. An inadequate copyright law that failed to protect and promote American dramatists worked against genuinely original drama. So did the “star system,” in which actors and actresses, rather than the actual plays, were given most acclaim.”

In addition, “Americans flocked to see European actors who toured theatres in the United States. In addition, imported drama, like imported wine, enjoyed higher status than indigenous productions.” Yet, it was not until the 20th century that would “serious plays attempt aesthetic innovation. Popular culture showed vital developments, however, especially in vaudeville (popular variety theater involving skits, clowning, music, and the like). Minstrel shows, based on African-American music and folkways – performed by white characters using “blackface” makeup – also developed original forms and expressions.”

With this background in mind, we shall approach the most representative figures in this field, thus Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953), Clifford Odets (1906-1963) , and more recently, Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) and Arthur Miller (1915-). Other less relevant dramatist of the period is Thornton Wilder (1897-1975).

Eugene O’Neill (1888- 1953) is regarded as the greatest figure of American theatre. Following VanSpanckeren (2004), “his numerous plays combine enormous technical originality with freshness of vision and emotional depth. O’Neill’s earliest dramas concern the working class and poor; later works explore subjective realms, such as obsessions and sex, and underscore his reading in Freud and his anguished attempt to come to terms with his dead mother, father, and brother.

“His play Desire Under the Elms (1924) recreates the passions hidden within one family; The Great God Brown (1926) uncovers the unconsciousness of a wealthy businessman; and Strange Interlude (1928), a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, traces the tangled loves of one woman. These powerful plays reveal

different personalities reverting to primitive emotions or confusion under intense stress.

“O’Neill continued to explore the Freudian pressures of love and dominance within families in a trilogy of plays collectively entitled Mourning Becomes Electra (1931), based on the classical Oedipus trilogy by Sophocles. His later plays include the acknowledged masterpieces The Iceman Cometh (1946), a stark work on the theme of death, and Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1956) – a powerful, extended autobiography in dramatic form focusing on his own family and their physical and psychological deterioration, as witnessed in the course of one night. This work was part of a cycle of plays O’Neill was working on at the time of his death.”

“O’Neill redefined the theater by abandoning traditional divisions into acts and scenes (Strange Interlude has nine acts, and Mourning Becomes Electra takes nine hours to perform); using masks such as those found in Asian and ancient Greek theater; introducing Shakespearean monologues and Greek choruses; and producing special effects through lighting and sound. He is generally acknowledged to have been America’s foremost dramatist. In 1936 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature – the first American playwright to be so honored.”

Clifford Odets (1906- 1963) is also regarded as a master of social drama. He came from an Eastern European, Jewish immigrant background and was raised in New York City, where he became one of the original acting members of the Group Theater directed by Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg, and Cheryl Crawford, which was committed to producing only native American dramas. Following VanSpanckeren (2004), “Odets’s best-known play was Waiting for Lefty (1935), an experimental one-act drama that fervently advocated labor unionism. His Awake and Sing!, a nostalgic family drama, became another popular success, followed by Golden Boy , the story of an Italian immigrant youth who ruins his musical talent when he is seduced by the lure of money to become a boxer and in jures his hands. Like Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Dreiser’s An American Tragedy , the play warns against excessive ambition and materialism.”

Tennessee Williams (1911-1983), Thomas Lanier Williams , is also one of America’s greatest playwrights, and certainly the greatest ever from the South. Williams helped transform the contemporary idea of the Southern literature, and also helped the South find a strong voice in those auspices where before it

had only been heard as a whisper. He wrote fiction and motion picture screenplays, but he is primarily acclaimed for his plays, nearly all of which are set in the South, and deal with regionalism. As well as Arthur Miller, he moved straight to Broadway because of his prolific, colourful and varied output.

In his works, he described his characters on the limit, as victims of society’s frustrations and excesses. Among his early plays, we include Smart Set (1927) and Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay (1937), which in many respects is regarded as the true beginning of his literary and stage career. Building upon the experience he gained with his first production, Williams had two more plays, Candles to the Sun and The Fugitive Kind (both 1937).

After graduating at the University of Iowa in 1938, Williams found a bit of fame when he won the Group Theater prize for American Blues (1939). It was followed by Battle of Angels (1940) and near the close of the war in 1944, what many consider to be his finest play, The Glass Menagerie, which had a very successful run in Chicago and a year later burst its way onto Broadway, since it contained autobiographical elements from his days in St. Louis as well as from his family’s past in Mississippi.

Over the next eight years (1944-1952), he found homes for A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Summer and Smoke, A Rose Tattoo (1950), and Camino Real (1951) on Broadway. His reputation continued to grow and he saw many more of his works produced on Broadway and made into films, including such works as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), for which he earned a second Pulitzer Prize, Sweet Birth of Youth (1959), and Night of the Iguana (1961).

Arthur Miller (1915-) also entered Broadway as the American playwright who combined in his works social awareness with deep insights into personal weaknesses of his characters. His works, socially inspired, denounce the illusion of the American dream as in the Death of a Salesman (1949), often describe North-American’s obsessions , and continues the realistic tradition that began in the United States in the period between the two world wars. Yet, Miller is best known for his marriage to the actress Marilyn Monroe. Miller’s plays.

Born in New York and after having suffered the effects of the Great Depression period within his family, he wrote his first work, Timebends: a Lif e (1987). After graduating in English (1938), Miller returned to New York, where he

joined the Federal Theatre Project, and wrote scripts for radio programs, such as Columbia Workshop (CBS) and Cavalcade of America (NBC). Miller’s first play to appear on Broadway was The Man Who Had all the Luck (1944), which was followed by All My Sons (1947), a story about a factory owner who sells faulty aircraft parts during World War II. It won the New York Drama Critics Circle award.

On touring Army camps to collect background material, he wrote The Story of Gi Joe (1945) and also his first novel, Focus (1945), about anti-Semitism. As stated above, Miller’s plays often depict how families are destroyed by false values. Death of a Salesman (1949) brought Miller international fame, and become one of the major achievements of modern American theatre. It relates the tragic story of a salesman named Willy Loman, whose past and present are mingled in expressionistic scenes. The story also deals with the American Dream, with a no happy end.

His play The Crucible (1953) was based on court records and historical personages of the Salem witch trials of 1692. He aimed at showing the American obssession through this allegory for the McCarthy era and mass hysteria . It was followed by A View from the Bridge (1955), two short plays telling a drama about incestuous love, jealousy and betrayal. In the late 1950s Miller wrote nothing for the theatre, except for a screenplay, Misfits (1961), which was written with a role for his wife, Marilyn Monroe.

Yet, Miller returned to stage in 1964 after a nine-year absence with the play After the Fall (1964), a strongly autobiographical work, which dealt with the questions of guilt and innocence. After WWII, Miller became one of the best- known American playwrights together with Tenessee Williams. In 1965 he was elected presiden of P.E.N., an international literary organization and at the 1968

Democratic Convention, he was a delegate for Eugene McCarthy. After this

political engagement, he wrote The American Clock (1981) and in the 1990s, such plays as The Last Yankee (1990) and The Ride Down Mount Morgan (1991). More recently, in 2002 Miller was honored with Spain’s prestigious Principe de Asturias Prize for Literature, making him the first U.S. recipient of the award.

3.2.3. Prose.

As for poetry, since World War II the genre of narrative has also resisted generalization and now it is extremely various and multifaceted. Also fostered by international currents such as European existentialism and Latin American magical realism, the change that has most transformed American society, however, has been the rise of the mass media and mass culture. Following VanSpanckeren (2004), “f irst radio, then movies, and now an all-powerful, ubiquitous television presence have changed American life at its roots. From a private, literate, elite culture based on the book, the eye, and reading, the United States has become a media culture attuned to the voice on the radio, the music of compact discs and cassettes, film, and the images on the television screen.”

So, oral genres, media, and popular culture have increasingly influenced narrative. American prose has also been directly influenced by mass media and while the electronic technology era has brought the global village. “In the past, elite culture influenced popular culture through its status and example; the reverse seems true in the United States today. Serious novelists like Thomas Pynchon, Joyce Carol Oates, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Alice Walker, and E.L. Doctorow have borrowed from and commented on comics, movies, fashions, songs, and oral history.”

Regarding recent literature, “writers in the United States are asking serious questions, many of them of a metaphysical nature. Writers have become highly innovative and self-aware, or “reflexive.” Often they find traditional modes ineffective and seek vitality in more widely popular material. To put it another way: American writers, in recent decades, have developed a post-modern sensibility.” Because of technological advances, space exploration, and the threat of nuclear and germ warfare, there has been a tremendous increase in science fiction –novels about the future on other planets, or on an earth catastrophically altered.

In fact, following Albert (1990), “the contemporary English novel has been affected to an inestimable extent by three entirely new influences.” Thus, “never before have novels from the U.S.A. been so widely read. Many of these have been characterized by detailed realism, lack of reticence, brutality, disillusion, and criticism of the national and international scene; they have dealt in a penetrating manner iwth the frustrations and emotional storms largely caused by urban-commercial life.”

We shall focus on just a handful of writers, the most representative ones, since there is huge number of them to mention. For instance, among those we shall not examine we include the realist legacy of Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989) , Arthur Miller (1915- ) , Tennessee Williams

(1911-1983) , AND Eudora Welty (1909- ); within the 1950s, Flannery O’Connor (1925- 1964), Saul Bellow (1915-), Bernard Malamud (1914-1986) , John Cheever (1912-1982) and John Updike (1932-) about the novel of manners,), and J.D. Salinger (1919- ) and Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) with social novel, among others. Within the creative 1960s, we shall not include either Thomas Pynchon (1937- ) or Norman Mailer (1923- ); and in the 1970s and 1980s, nor John Gardner (1933- 1982) or John Barth (1930- ).

Among those we shall examine, we find in the first half of the 20th century, Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980). whose fiction in the second half reflects the aftermath of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. In the 1950s we shall approach the figures of James Baldwin (1924-1987) , Ralph Waldo Ellison (1914-1994), Vladimir Nabokov (1889-1977). On the other hand, Toni Morrison (1931-) will represent the 1960s, which showed the United States in terms of the Civil Rights Movement, feminism, antiwar protests, minority activism, and the arrival of a counterculture whose effects are still being worked through American society. Notable political and social works of the era include the speeches of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the early writings of feminist leader Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique, 1963), and Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night (1968), about a 1967 antiwar march.

Alice Walker (1944-) will represent the mid-1970s, that is, an era of consolidation since the Vietnam conflict was over, followed soon afterward by U.S. recognition of the People’s Republic of China and America’s Bicentennial celebration. During the 1980s individuals tended to focus more on more personal concerns than on larger social issues. And finally, regionalism appears in the form of urban fiction, making a triumphant return in American literature and enabling readers to get a sense of place as well as a sense of time and humanity. And it is as prevalent in popular fiction, such as detective stories, as it is in classic literature (novels, short stories, and drama). Following VanSpanckeren (2004), “there are several possible reasons for this occurrence. For one thing, all of the arts in America have been decentralized over the past generation. Theatre, music, and dance are as likely to thrive in cities in the U.S. South, Southwest, and Northwest as in major cities such as New York and Chicago. Movie companies shoot films across the United States, on myriad locations.”

Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980)’s long life and career encompassed several eras since 1945 to 1980. For instance, her first success, Flowering Judas (1930), was set in Mexico during the revolution, and was followed by Noon Wine (1937), Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939), The Leaning Tower (1944), and Collected Stories (1965). In the early 1960s, she produced a long, allegorical novel with a timeless theme, Ship of Fools (1962), which showed the

responsibility of humans for each other in the late 1930s aboard a passenger liner carrying members of the German upper class and German refugees alike from the Nazi nation. Not a prolific writer, Porter nonetheless has influenced generations of authors, among them her southern colleagues Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor.

After WWII the United States were brought out of the Depression, and the

1950s saw the delayed impact of modernization and technology in everyday life. Hence most Americans had more time to enjoy long-awaited material prosperity. Business, especially in the corporate world, seemed to offer the good life with its real and symbolic marks of success (house, car, television, and home appliances). Yet loneliness at the top was a dominant theme.

James Baldwin (1924-1987).

James Baldwin mirrored the African-American experience of the 1950s. Following VanSpanckeren (2004), “his character suffer from a lack of identity, rather than from over-ambition. Baldwin, the oldest of nine children born to a Harlem, New York, family, was the foster son of a minister. As a youth, Baldwin occasionally preached in the church. This experience helped shape the compelling, oral quality of Baldwin’s prose, most clearly seen in his excellent essays, such as “Letter from a Region Of My Mind,” from the collection The Fire Next Time (1963). In this, he argued movingly for an end to separation between the races.”

“Baldwin’s first novel, the autobiographical Go Tell It On the Mountain (1953), is probably his best known. It is the story of a 14-year-old youth who seeks self- knowledge and religious faith as he wrestles with issues of Christian conversion in a storefront church. Other important Baldwin works include Another Country (1962), a novel about racial issues and homosexuality, and Nobody Knows My Name (1961), a collection of passionate personal essays about racism, the role of the artist, and literature.”

Ralph Waldo Ellison (1914-1994).

“Ralph Ellison was a midwesterner, born in Oklahoma, who studied at Tuskegee Institute in the southern United States. He had one of the strangest careers in American letters – consisting of one highly acclaimed book, and nothing more. The novel is Invisible Man (1952), the story of a black man who

lives a subterranean existence in a hole brightly illuminated by electricity stolen from a utility company. The book recounts his grotesque, disenchanting experiences.”

“When he wins a scholarship to a black college, he is humiliated by whites; when he gets to the college, he witnesses the black president spurning black American concerns. Life is corrupt outside college, too. For example, even religion is no consolation: A preacher turns out to be a criminal. The novel indicts society for failing to provide its citizens – black and white – with viable ideals and institutions for realizing them. It embodies a powerful racial theme because the “invisible man” is invisible not in himself but because others, blinded by prejudice, cannot see him for who he is. “

Vladimir Nabokov (1889-1977) arrived in the United States as an immigrant singer from Eastern Europe. “Born into an affluent family in Czarist Russia, he came to the United States in 1940 and gained U.S. citizenship five years later. From 1948 to 1959 he taught literature at Cornell University in upstate New York; in 1960 he moved permanently to Switzerland. He is best known for his novels, which include the autobiographical Pnin (1957), about an ineffectual Russian emigre professor, and Lolita (U.S. edition 1958), about an educated, middle -aged European who becomes infatuated with an ignorant 12- year-old American girl.”

“Nabokov’s pastiche novel, Pale Fire (1962), another successful venture,

focuses on a long poem by an imaginary dead poet and the commentaries on it by a critic whose writings overwhelm the poem and take on unexpected lives of their own. Nabokov is an important writer for his stylistic subtlety, deft satire, and ingenious innovations in form, aware of his role as a mediator between the Russian and American literary worlds. He wrote a book on Gogol and translated Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin . His daring, somewhat expressionist subjects, like the odd love in Lolita, helped introduce expressionist 20th-century European currents into the essentially realist American fictional tradition. His tone, partly satirical and partly nostalgic, also suggested a new serio-comic emotional register made use of by writers such as Pynchon, who combines the opposing notes of wit and fear.”

Tony Morrison (1931- ) was an African-American novelist who was born in

Ohio at the core of a spiritually oriented family. “She attended Howard

University in Washington, D.C., and has worked as a senior editor in a major Washington publishing house and as a distinguished professor at various universities. Morrison’s richly woven fiction has gained her international acclaim. In compelling, large-spirited novels, she treats the complex identities of black people in a universal manner.”

“In her early work The Bluest Eye (1970), a strong-willed young black girl tells the story of Pecola Breedlove, who survives an abusive father. Pecola believes that her dark eyes have magically become blue, and that they will make her lovable. Morrison has said that she was creating her own sense of identity as a writer through this novel.” Her next work, Sula (1973) describes the strong friendship of two women, where she paints African-American women as unique, fully individual characters rather than as stereotypes.

“Morrison’s Song of Solomon (1977) has won several awards. It follows a black man, Milkman Dead, and his complex relations with his family and community. In Tar Baby (1981) Morrison deals with black and white relations. Beloved (1987) is the wrenching story of a woman who murders her children rather than allow them to live as slaves. It employs the dreamlike techniques of magical realism in depicting a mysterious figure.” Finally, she suggests that her novels contain political meaning and, since they regarded as consummate works of art, Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

Alice Walker (1944-) is also an African-American writer, born at a sharecropper family in rural Georgia. On graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, she became a feminist writer, presenting black existence from the female perspective. Like other accomplished contemporary black novelists, Walker uses heightened, lyrical realism to center on the dreams and failures of accessible, credible people. “Her work underscores the quest for dignity in human life. A fine stylist, particularly in her epistolary dialect novel The Color Purple, her work seeks to educate. In this she resembles the black American novelist Ishmael Reed, whose satires expose social problems and racial issues.”

“Walker’s The Color Purple is the story of the love between two poor black sisters that survives a separation over years, interwoven with the story of how, during that same period, the shy, ugly, and uneducated sister discovers her inner strength through the support of a female friend. This work mainly portrays men as basically unaware of the needs and reality of women.”

“The close of the 1980s and the beginnings of the 1990s saw minority writing become a major fixture on the American literary landscape. This is true in drama as well as in prose. August Wilson who is continuing to write and see staged his cycle of plays about the 20th-century black experience (including Pulitzer Prize-winners Fences, 1986, and The Piano Lesson, 1989) – ands alongside novelists Alice Walker, John Edgar Wideman, and Toni Morrison.”

“Asian-Americans are also taking their place on the scene, for instance, David Henry Hwang, a California -born son of Chinese immigrants, has made his mark in drama, with plays such as F.O.B. (1981) and M. Butterfly (1986). A relatively new group on the literary horizon are the Hispanic -American writers, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Oscar Hijuelos, the Cuban-born author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Lo ve (1989); short story writer Sandra Cisneros (Women Hollering Creek and Other Stories, 1991); and Rudolfo Anaya, author of Bless Me, Ultima (1972), which sold 300,000 copies, mostly in the western United States. “

Finally, within regionalism, following again VanSpanckeren (2004), we find works such as “Nicholson at Large (1975), a study of a Washington newsman during and after the John F. Kennedy presidency of the early 1960s; In the City of Fear (1982), a glimpse of Washington during the Vietnam era; and Jack Gance (1989), a sobering look at a Chicago politician and his rise to the U.S. Senate, are some of his more impressive works. Susan Richards Shreve’s Children of Power (1979) assesses the private lives of a group of sons and daughters of government officials, while popular novelist Tom Clancy, a Maryland resident, has used the Washington politico-military landscape as the launching pad for his series of epic suspense tales.”

Moving southward, McCorkle (born in 1958) represents “a new generation, who has devoted her novels and short stories — set in the small towns of North Carolina- to exploring the mystiques of teenagers (The Cheer Leader, 1984), the links between generations (Tending to Virginia , 1987), and the particular sensibilities of contemporary suthern women (Crash Diet, 1992).

“In the same region is Pat Conroy, whose bracing autobiographical novels about his South Carolina upbringing and his abusive, tyrannical father (The Great Santini, 1976; The Prince of Tides, 1986) are infused with a sense of the natural beauty of the South Carolina low country. Shelby Foote, a Mississippi native

who has lived in Memphis, Tennessee, for years, is an old-time chronicler of the South whose histories and fictions led to his role on camera in a successful public television series on the U.S. Civil War.”

“America’s heartland reveals a wealth of writing talent. Among them are Jane

Smiley, who teaches writing at the University of Iowa. Smiley won the 1992

Pulitzer Prize in fiction for A Thousand Acres (1991), which transplanted Shakespeare’s King Lear to a midwestern U.S. farm and chronicled the bitter family feud unleashed when an aging farmer decides to turn over his land to his three daughters. Texas chronicler Larry McMurtry covers his native state in varying time periods and sensibilities, from the vanished 19th- century West (Lonesome Dove, 1985; Anything For Billy , 1988) to the vanishing small towns of the postwar era (The Last Picture Show, 1966).”

In addition, “Cormac McCarthy, whose explorations of the American Southwest desert limn his novels Blood Meridian (1985), All The Pretty Horses (1992), and The Crossing (1994), is a reclusive, immensely imaginative writer who is just beginning to get his due on the U.S. literary scene. Generally considered the rightful heir to the southern Gothic tradition, McCarthy is as intrigued by the wildness of the terrain as he is by human wildness and unpredictability.”

Also, “set in the striking landscape of her native New Mexico, Native Americ an novelist Leslie Marmon Silko’s critically esteemed novel Ceremony (1977) has gained a large general audience. Like N. Scott Momaday’s poetic The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969), it is a “chant novel” structured on Native American healing rituals. Silko’s novel The Almanac of the Dead (1991) offers a panorama of the Southwest, from ancient tribal migrations to present-day drug runners and corrupt real estate developers reapin g profits by misusing the land.”

Finally, we shall conclude by sayin that “the American literature has traversed an extended, winding path from pre-colonial days to contemporary times. Society, history, technology all have had telling impact on it. Ultimately, though, there is a constant humanity, with all its radiance and its malevolence, its tradition and its promise.”


Literature, and therefore, literary language is one of the most salient aspects of educational activity. In classrooms all kinds of literary language (poetry, drama, prose –novel, short story, minor fiction-, periodicals) either spoken or written, is going on for most of the time. Yet, handling literary productions in the past makes relevant the analysis of literature in the twentieth and twenty-first century in the United States in this unit. Yet, what do students know about the literature in this period? At this point it makes sense to examine the historical background of the United States up to the present day so as to provide an appropriate context for these poets, dramatists and novelists in our students’ background knowledge and check what they know about them.

Since literature may be approached in linguistic terms, regarding form and function (morphology, lexis, structure, form) and also from a cross-curricular perspective (Sociology, History, English, French, Spanish Language and Literature), Spanish students are expected to know about the history of the United States and its influence in the world. In addition, one of the objectives of teaching the English language is to provide good models of almost any kind of literary productions for future studies.

Currently, action research groups attempt to bring about change in classroom learning and teaching through a focus on literary production under two premises. First, because they believe learning is an integral aspect of any form of activity and second, because education at all levels must be conceived in terms of literature and history. The basis for these assumptions is to be found in an attempt, through the use of historical events, to develop understanding of students’ shared but diverse social and physical environment.

Learning involves a process of transformation of participation itself which has far reaching implications on the role of the teacher in the teaching- learning relationship. This means that literary productions are an analytic tool and that teachers need to identify the potential contributions and potential limitations of them before we can make good use of genre techniques: the stream of consciousness, the kaleidoscopic point of view, and the presentation of different scenes, among others. We must bear in mind that most students will continue their studies at university and there, they will have to handle successfully all kind of genres, especially poetry, drama and fiction ones within our current framework.

Moreover, today’s new technologies (the Internet, DVD, videocamera) and the media (TV, radio, cinema) may provide a new direction to language teaching as they set more appropriate

context for students to experience the target culture. Present-day approaches deal with a communicative competence model in which first, there is an emphasis on significance over form, and secondly, motivation and involvement are enhanced by means of new technologies and the media. Hence literary productions and the history of the period may be approched in terms of films and drama representations in class, among others, and in this case, by means of books (novels: historical, terror, descriptive) and drama (opera, comedies, plays), among others.

But how do twentieth and twenty-first-century North-American literature tie in with the new curriculum? Spanish students are expected to know about the North American culture and its presence in Europe since students are required to know about the world culture and history. The success partly lies in the way literary works become real to the users. Some of this motivational force is brought about by intervening in authentic communicative events. Otherwise, we have to recreate as much as possible the whole cult ural environment in the classroom by means of novels, short stories, documentaries, history books, or their family’s stories.

Hence it makes sense to examine relevant figures such as Vladimir Nabokov, who applied media methods to his writings in Lolita (1958) which was filmed, as well as Arthur Miller’s Misfits (1961), and some plays such as A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), for which he earned a second Pulitzer Prize, and Night of the Iguana (1961). If the names of the plays or novels are not familiar to students, maybe they are for their parents, who can always tell their children about the plot, characters and background. Also, relevant figures such as Arthur Miller in drama may be approached to students if we let them know his marriage to Marilyn Monroe. In this way, we can bring to reality some of these twentieth and twenty- first-century authors.

This is to be achieved within the framework of the European Council (1998) and, in particular, the Spanish Educational System which establishes a common reference framework for the teaching of foreign languages where students are intended to carry out several communication tasks with specific communicative goals, for instance, how to locate a literary work within a particular historical period. Analytic interpretation of texts in all genres should become part of every literary student’s basic competence (B.O.E., 2004).

In addition, one of the objectives of teaching the English language is to provide good models of almost any kind of literary productions for future studies. Following van Ek & Trim (2001), ‘the learners can perform, within the limits of the resources available to them, those writing (and oral) tasks which adult citizens in general may wish, or be called upon, to carry out in their

private capacity or as members of the general public’ when dealing with their future regarding personal and professional life.

In short, the knowledge about British culture (history and literature) should become part of every literary student’s basic competence (B.O.E., 2004). There are hidden influences at work beneath the textual surface: these may be sociocultural, inter and intratextual. The literary student has to discover these, and wherever necessary apply them in further examinatio n. The main aims that our currently educational system focuses on are mostly sociocultural, to facilitate the study of cultural themes, as our students must be aware of their current social reality within the international scene.


On reviewing the issue of Unit 59, we have examined the political, social and economic development in the United States since 1945 up to the present day, and also, its political relevance at international level. With this background in mind we aim at reviewing the present- day literary background of the time and, therefore, the life, works and style of the most representative authors in this period. Hence in Chapter 2 we have presented the main events occurred during and after the World War II (1941-1945) up to the present-day in the United States in political, social and economic terms.

This historical background has provided the basis for a better understanding of the literary background in the XXth and XXIst-century main authors and works in the United States. On reviewing each genre, we have got closer to how those writers reflected the time in which they were living. In Chapter 4 we have established a link between this historical and literary background with the main educational implications in language teaching regarding the introduction of this issue in the classroom setting and how to make our students aware of how much they know about the modern history of the United States in relation to the rest of the world. At this point, we hope to offer fruitful conclusions on this presentation, and we shall close it by presenting all the bibliographical references used in its elaboration for further references.

So far, we have attempted to provide the reader in this presentation with a historical, literary and cultural background on the vast amount of literature productions in the twentieth and twenty- first-century literature in the United States. This information is relevant for language learners,

even ESO and Bachillerato students, who do not automatically establish similiarities between North-America and the rest of the world in terms of social reality. So, learners need to have these associations brought to their attention in cross-curricular settings through the media. As we have seen, understanding how literature reflects the main historical events of a country is important to students, who are expected to be aware of the richness of North-American literature in all English-speaking countries.


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B.O.E. 2004. Consejería de Educación y Cultura. Decreto N.º 117/2004, de 23 de enero. Currículo de

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