THE URGENT WEST: The American Dream and Modern Man by Walter Allen

THE URGENT WEST: The American Dream and Modern Man

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Mr. Allen has catalogued and categorized The English Novel and The Modern Novel (1964) and now, after some years of teaching on American campuses, has attempted to isolate and coordinate the American historical and literary experience into a workable canon. He begins with the need to define identity (in a country where the ""melting pot"" is a ""mixture not a compound"") and ends with the statement that American literature has been generated by a ""constant seeking and questioning of identity."" In between these coequal simplicities, he has actually furnished a bi-partite survey course of the origins of the ""American Dream."" The first part deals with the historical settlement of America by the Puritans (industry and initiative) versus the more chivalric spirit which prevailed in Virginia, gives a token acknowledgement to the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the Dutch in New York, a two page inset on the Jewish immigrations, and moves on to the frontier which shaped certain ""American"" characteristics, notably individualism and knowhow. The second part is a synopsis (one suspects from lecture notes) of the ""founding fathers"" of American literature -- Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Poe, Twain and Emily Dickinson, with briefer mentions of modern figures -- a very cursory field trip. Sometimes Mr. Allen makes extraordinary jumpshifts: having sprinted through the ""dream"" of the frontier (Twain's and Cooper's) he lumps together in a paragraph its reaction -- The Grapes of Wrath and The Catcher in the Rye (?). Thus in the ""melting pot,"" an olla podrida which may be a convenient source for a good many quotations and plot summaries but provides almost no stimulus. Certainly's it's not urgent and one questions to whom it will prove even cogent.

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 1969
Publisher: Dutton