BOYS WILL BE BOYS Farrel Examines Working-Class Manhood
John Dos Passos may have offered a blueprint for the new novel, but he failed to address the question of who exactly would be reading this radical literature. Although publishers were offering prizes for the best proletarian novel of the year, it was difficult not to notice that sales of these novels were not strong. It would be up to James T. Farrell, in his Studs Lonigan trilogy, to address the problem of proletarian readership and to point out that the idealized spitting, swearing working man envisioned by Mike Gold and other proletarian writers could not possibly read "highbrow" novels and preserve his masculine self-image.
By the time James T. Farrell published A Note on Literary Criticism in 1936, American writers had for several years been deeply embroiled in the debate over how best to produce class-conscious art. And as the arguments raged on over such issues as the political suitability of using the inner monologue (it "is too closely connected," wrote D. S. Mirsky in New Masses, "with the ultra subjectivism of the parasitic, rentier bourgeoisie, and entirely unadaptable to the art of one who is building socialist society"), it became clear that there was another, related, issue that demanded the attention of proletarian writers: very few people, let alone members of the working class, were reading their books.
In his 1934 Saturday Review of Literature article, "What the Proletariat