Modernism and Mass Politics: Joyce, Woolf, Eliot, Yeats

By Michael Tratner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
"The Mob Part of the Mind"

Sexuality and Immigrant Politics in the Early Poems of T. S. Eliot

To the British in the early twentieth century, the upwelling of a mass unconscious, a mass mind, appeared in several different guises: the "natives" throwing off colonial status, the workers rising into the largest domestic political party, and the women demonstrating for votes all seemed to threaten to swamp the old order. The anxieties I traced in The Voyage Out, that the only way out of women's oppression was through the elimination of class and national boundaries, were one product of this perception. In the United States there were similar concerns, but they were expressed in different terms because of yet a fourth kind of alien mass: immigrants. As a million immigrants entered the United States each year in the 1910's, "Americanization" became a central answer to the threat of the masses, and both workers and women adopted anti-immigrant positions as part of their own efforts to gain power. American women gained the vote within a year of British women, but in America that expansion of the vote was offset by a series of laws aimed at reducing the influx of new voters, first by taking the vote away from new immigrants and then by drastically reducing the number of immigrants. In America, the transformation into mass politics carried with it a rhetoric of "assimilation," and "purification"--the masses would be made like "us," and to do so would involve certain exclusions, not merely expansions. The contrast between English and American reactions to the threat of mass politics can be symbolized by the contrasting reactions to socialism after World War I. The Labour Party in England adopted a socialist charter in 1918, and that same year a Reform Bill greatly increased the number of working-class voters.

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