Heroic Fiction: The Epic Tradition and American Novels of the Twentieth Century

Heroic Fiction: The Epic Tradition and American Novels of the Twentieth Century

Heroic Fiction: The Epic Tradition and American Novels of the Twentieth Century

Heroic Fiction: The Epic Tradition and American Novels of the Twentieth Century

Synopsis

This reexamination of the works of five modern novelists- Frank Norris, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Saul Bellow, and Ralph Ellison- draws important parallels to the classical epic tradition found in the novels by these writers. In his introductory chapter Mr. Lutwack discusses earlier American examples of the quest epic and the contributions of the novel form to the epic genre.

Excerpt

It is interesting to note that two of the novels chosen for examination in the present book, which discusses recent American fiction in the light of the epic tradition, are also dealt with in an earlier and quite different volume in the Crosscurrents / Modern Critiques series. This is Warren French's valuable study, published in 1965, of The Social Novel at the End of an Era, which among other items focused on Hemingway For Whom the Bell Tolls and Steinbeck The Grapes of Wrath. Now we find them viewed from a quite different angle in Heroic Fiction: The Epic Tradition and American Novels of the Twentieth Century, also a valuable book, this one by Professor Leonard Lutwack of the University of Maryland. Besides Hemingway and Steinbeck, Mr. Lutwack also takes up the work of such recent novelists as Ralph Ellison and Saul Bellow. And there is the earlier Frank Norris, with The Octopus.

At the beginning of his book, Mr. Lutwack discusses not only earlier American writers who produced epics, such as Melville in Moby-Dick, but also the epic tradtion in general, showing how "the epic tradition and the novel have been of mutual benefit, the deficiencies of one being corrected by the virtues of the other," and pointing out that "the tendency of epic writing to become bombastic is corrected by the novel's commitment to plain prose, while the triviality of the novel's facts is re-

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