Spotting Leopards in Postwar America

By Kellman, Steven G. | The Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Spotting Leopards in Postwar America

Kellman, Steven G., The Virginia Quarterly Review


Leopards in the Temple: The Transformation of American Fiction, 1945-1970. By Morris Dickstein. Harvard University Press. $15.95.

The 1950's are the Midwest of American cultural history, the flyover flatlands slighted by critics in quest of more spectacular terrain. Dwight Eisenhower, Pat Boone, and Donna Reed have seemed, in retrospect, to be tutelary spirits to a timorous age of conformity, consumerism, and complacency. It was the habitat of organization men, lonely crowds, and men in gray flannel suits, except that the comers of those terms, William H. Whyte, David Reisman, and Sloan Wilson, respectively, were also contemporary with the numbing blandness that they indicted. What kept the postwar years from being the worst of times was the vigor of the chorus proclaiming that it was the worst of times. "Never did so triumphant a period produce such a mass of angry criticism," notes Morris Dickstein, surveying a postwar culture he finds clamorous with adversarial voices. The enduring literary legacy of the coercive decade that produced hula hoops, TV dinners, and Joseph McCarthy includes such major works of transgressive fiction as Invisible Man, On the Road, Catcher in the Rye, The Magic Barrel, Seize the Day, Lolita, and The End of the Road.

In his best-known book, Gates of Eden: American Culture in the Sixties (1977), Dickstein insisted on tracing the antecedents of the apocalyptic Age of Aquarius to the antinomian energies of the Age of Anxiety, a decade dominated by the novel threat of nuclear annihilation. In Leopards in the Temple, Dickstein contends that the entire 25 years following the end of World War II constitute a single continuum, and he proceeds to examine together the novels and short stories created in the United States throughout that quarter-century. Yet he now dismisses much of what the final years of the period produced: "The cultural turbulence of the 1960s inspired little first-rate fiction but much attitudinizing." Though he offers cogent readings of Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970) and The Armies of the Night (1968) and mere mention of The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Dickstein is most inspired by the dissidents, rebels, and neurotics who dared disturb the placid surface of the earlier decade, in which Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking and Fulton J. Sheen's Life Is Worth Living sat high on the best-seller lists. He is teased into thought by ambivalence, by how: "The fifties were at once a period of complacency, of getting and spending, and an age of anxiety, a time for doubt and self-questioning, as shown by works like David Reisman's The Lonely Crowd and Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism." As urban riots and Vietnam revealed an America riven by violent racial and generational conflict, it also became less equivocal and less interesting to Dickstein.

The title Leopards in the Temple (adopted also for a study of technology and culture by Steven Carter that was published three months earlier) emphasizes the volume's focus on transgressive texts. An epigraph quotes Franz Kafka's Parables and Paradoxes: "Leopards break into the temple and drink to the dregs what is in the sacrificial pitchers; this is repeated over and over again; finally it can be calculated in advance, and it becomes part of the ceremony." Elsewhere, Dickstein identifies Kafka's leopard with "the force of the irrational." The implication is that the authors he is most intent on reading-James Baldwin, John Barth, Saul Bellow, Paul Bowles, Truman Capote, John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, Chester B. Himes, James Jones, Jack Kerouac, Bernard Malamud, Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Roth, J. D. Salinger, John Updike, Gore Vidal, and Tennessee Williams-violated the contemporary consensus about what constituted reason. The corollary is that the power of their art has made these outsiders part of the ceremony, part of the culture upon which they trespassed.

Leopards in the Temple originated as an essay for the new Cambridge History of American Literature, an exercise in literary historiography that, edited by Sacvan Bercovitch, prizes interpretation over mere iteration. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Spotting Leopards in Postwar America


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.