THE ROAD In Search of America
"I am in the position of most writers nowadays," Sherwood Anderson explained in the introduction to Puzzled America, his 1935 travel memoir. "Formerly, for a good many years, I was a writer of tales. It might be that I should have remained just that, but there is a difficulty. There are, everywhere in America, these people now out of work. There are women and children hungry and others without enough clothes."1 Sixteen years earlier, Anderson had published Winesburg, Ohio. Widely condemned at the time of publication for its sexual frankness, the collection had won Anderson the admiration of American modernists. The stories may have taken place in an American town, but it was, as Anderson said, a mythical town; the stories were examinations not of the life of a people but of the loneliness of individuals. Whereas those stories had titles like "Hands," "Sophistication," and "Drink," Anderson's need, by the midthirties, to understand and report on the condition of the country led him to write a book with chapter headings like "A Union Meeting," "At the Mine Mouth," "Revolt in South Dakota," and "Night in a Corn Town." By the thirties, it would be impossible for him to write, as he had in his 1922 memoir, A Story Teller's Story, that to a true artist "All morality then becomes a purely aesthetic matter."2
Anderson was by no means alone in either his puzzlement or his attempts to understand and represent the new America. Throughout the thirties, writers like Nathan Asch, Edmund Wilson, James Rorty, Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, and Louis Adamic took to the road in search of America.