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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

14. Becoming Visible

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- James Baldwin
- Saul Bellow
- Gwendolyn Brooks
- Ralph Ellison
- Bernard Malamud
- Paule Marshall
- Arthur Miller
- N. Scott Momaday
- Grace Paley
- Philip Roth
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Suggested Author Pairings

Ralph Ellison and Saul Bellow
Ellison and Bellow were friends, sharing a house in rural New England when they were aspiring writers. As artists they were highly suspicious of mass movements, of slogans, of attempts to reduce identity and political questions to simple terms. Both were college-educated and respectful of a literary tradition. In echoing and responding to that tradition as they developed contrarian voices, they received high praise but also resentment from other factions in the modern and contemporary arts. Their works, which are often considered to be early glimpses of postmodernism, might also be connected thematically and/or stylistically.

Philip Roth and Arthur Miller
Unlike Bellow and Malamud, these authors were drawn to the flashier circles of postwar American popular culture-Hollywood, the glamorous venues and residential districts of metropolitan New York, and other places where pop and literary life intersected. Though neither cultivated celebrity himself, both were connected for a time to high-profile actresses. Roth's tumultuous relationship with Claire Bloom is recounted in her autobiography; in his play After the Fall, Miller told, in thinly fictionalized form, the story of his marriage to and breakup from the legendary Marilyn Monroe. Over the course of their careers, Roth and Miller have moved somewhat uneasily through many sites and varieties of American life-working-class neighborhoods, suburbs, old New England towns, and the sun-drenched boulevards of Los Angeles and the new American West.

Grace Paley, Bernard Malamud, and Paule Marshall
In the works of these three first-generation American writers, the challenge of becoming American in the years after World War II is intensified by special circumstances, one of which involves being a citizen of New York. The United States's biggest and most powerful city figures significantly in their work: their characters cope with the turbulent action of the streets, the marginalization of the elderly in a fast-paced metropolis, the nurture and segregation of ethnic neighborhoods in outlying boroughs, and the complexities of being literary in a culture obsessed with celebrity. The Vietnam War, the civil rights struggles, and the rise of the American university as an employer of writers and an arbiter of taste are all rich topics for discussion in the context of these authors.

N. Scott Momaday and Richard Wright
Both of these authors write about young men propelled from the world they know into a violent modernity. Momaday's best-known novel, House Made of Dawn, is about a Native American who cannot reconcile his Pueblo heritage with the horrors of war and the rootlessness of city life. Momaday's other works attempt a spiritual homecoming-a rediscovery of spirit and consolation in the traditional landscapes of the Kiowa (Momaday's nation) and other Native American peoples. Also a wanderer in his personal life, Richard Wright never goes home in his fiction or in his memoirs. In his novel Native Son, his autobiographical work Black Boy, and several of his short stories, a key theme is the protagonist's puzzlement as he faces a bleak and menacing future. Like Momaday, Wright depicts both the mysteriousness and the violence of modern life for people who are hurled into it suddenly, without education, family support, or psychological readiness-and both do so as members of historically oppressed minority groups.

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