Superior to all men: violent masculinity, fascism, and American identity in Depression-era American literature
This dissertation, ""'Superior to all men': Violent Masculinity, Fascism, and American Identity in Depression-era American Literature,"" examines how American authors used modernist techniques and formal experimentation to recast the violent hero during the Great Depression. Using Richard Slotkin's work, I show how this revision of the hero contributed to a critique of frontier narratives, and the traditional, nineteenth-century socio-political ideals they maintained. The hard-boiled male was both a continuation of the hero's dedication to violent action and a subversion of the frontier as a narrative model for modern life. Despite his pulp origins, American modernists used the hard-boiled male prominently in literary critiques of American life throughout the thirties. With this figure, they expanded the experimentation of the twenties to a literary analysis of the national, economic, and political crises of the Depression, and in doing so their works questioned the roles of race and gender at the heart of American life and politics. The critique of heroic narratives gained particular focus with the rise of fascist politics abroad, and these authors increasingly suggested that such narratives produced and maintained proto-fascist discourses in American life. However, I argue that as the fascist threat grew prior to World War II, authors rehabilitated the frontier hero as a counter to fascism and in concert with democratic liberalism, the New Deal, and the Popular Front. I discuss texts by Ernest Hemingway, Dashiell Hammett, William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, John Steinbeck, and Richard Wright, as well as films directed by John Ford.