E. L. Doctorow's Skeptical Commitment

E. L. Doctorow's Skeptical Commitment

E. L. Doctorow's Skeptical Commitment

E. L. Doctorow's Skeptical Commitment

Synopsis

This book gives a political reading of E. L. Doctorow's fiction. For Doctorow, there was a tension between the ideals of his socially aware family and those of the new critics under whom he studied as an undergraduate. This tension, making him skeptical about the possibilities of political involvement, has been beneficial because it has enabled Doctorow to avoid the excesses of both polemical writing and formalism. Through a stance Tokarczyk terms "skeptical commitment" he has written political fiction of high literary quality. In part, he has done so by adapting genres such as the western and the romance. Furthermore, Doctorow has used experimental techniques to express political and historical themes, thereby writing a kind of postmodern fiction that still maintains the possibility of establishing some truths, while acknowledging indeterminacy.

Excerpt

E. L. Doctorow's: Skeptical Commitment is divided into seven chapters. Because Doctorow's autobiographical fiction most directly expresses some of the issues of the artist bearing witness to his/her society, I begin with his two autobiographical works, Lives of the Poets: a Novella and Six Stories and Billy Bathgate, in chapter one. Each of the remaining six chapters is devoted to one of Doctorow's novels, and I discuss the novels in the order in which they were written: Welcome to Hard Times, The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, Loon Lake, Billy Bathgate, and The Waterworks. Doctorow's second novel, Big as Life, a science fiction book in which two giants suddenly appear over New York City, is not up to the standards of the rest of Doctorow's work. the plot seems far-fetched and the quality of the writing disappointing. Big as Life is the only Doctorow novel that is out of print. For these reasons, I have chosen not to examine it. Also, since I am confining my study to Doctorow's fiction, I do not discuss his only drama, Drinks Before Dinner or focus on his numerous essays, though I do relate the views Doctorow expresses in his essays to the themes in his fiction.

Editions Used

Welcome to Hard Times. New York: Random House, 1960 The Book of Daniel. New York: Ballantine Books, 1971. Ragtime. New York: Random House, 1975. Loon Lake. New York: Random House, 1980. Lives of the Poets: a Novella and Six Stories. New York: Random House, 1984. World's Fair. New York: Random House, 1985. Billy Bathgate. New York: Random House, 1989. The Waterworks. New York: Random House, 1994.

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