West, Nathanael. (1903 - 1940).
L i f e
- born Nathan Weinstein, son of Lithuanian-Jewish parents, later adopted the half-biblical and half-American name Nathanael West
- divided between the two worlds without belonging anywhere really: his country of origin x America => became a poser and a fashionable cynic
- felt the discrepancy between the American dream x the American reality
W o r k
- a skilful and speedy scriptwriter, author of four grotesque novels
The Dream Life of Balso Snell (1931):
- a surrealist parody on pseudo-art
- a would-be-poet’s pilgrimage in the digestive tract of the Troyan horse: gets inside through the anal orifice of the horse and meets various characters developing literary activities
- the Troyan horse = a symbol of artificiality and pretentiousness
- the same for the characters: a writer of the biography of St. Flea living in Christ’s armpit, a schoolboy writing his own version of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and sexually longing for his teacher, etc.
- the language = a motif of artificiality, a parody of clichés
Miss Lonelyhearts (1933):
- a black farce on the Miss Lonelyhearts advice column in newspapers
- the American dream x the American reality during the Great Depression: the impossibility of achieving one’s dreams
- characters: symbolically dead, deprived of life, and resembling inanimate objects
- shrike = a bird imitating others birds’ voices to impale his food on thorns <=> Shrike = the character imitating and parodying)the language and dreams of Miss Lonelyhearts, as if impaling the Christian phrases of Miss Lonelyhearts on the thorns of his sardonic ridicule
- originally: Miss Lonelyheart’s sickness of the lying dreams he is creating x then: his true attempt to fit into his saviour role leading to tragedy
- language: a simple and reduced modern language
- the dark-mood vision behind the comedy <=> Mark Twain’s late novels
A Cool Million, or the Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin (1934):
- the danger of the American dream for those believing in it, the danger of the American optimism and innocence
- a political satire on the clichés and the emptiness of the American dream
- the protagonist = Lemuel Pitkin, a worthy and virtuous man bound to succeed according to the American dream x but: fails, loses his teeth, eye, thumb, leg, and hair, and ends up physically dismantled and shot to death while holding a public speech
= symbolically the physical dismantling of the American dream
- conclusion: a parade to commemorate the martyr’s death said to have died for the ideals of the parade holder
The Day of the Locust (1939):
- his own experience of the Hollywood periphery
- characters: stiff as dead corpses, making only mechanical movements
- conclusion: an apocalyptic destructive dance
(Photo: Literary Traveler com).
AuthorBorn Nathan Wallenstein Weinstein. Penname Nathanael West. (1903 - 1940). American.
WorkNovelist. Scriptwriter. Author of Miss Lonelyhearts (1933).
GenresSatire. Grotesque. Parody.
Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.
Bercovitch, Sacvan, ed. The Cambridge History of American Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Cunliffe, Marcus. The Literature of the United States. London: Penguin, 1991.
Lauter, Paul, ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Lexington: D. C. Heath, 1994.
McQuade, Donald, gen.ed. The Harper American Literature. New York: Harper & Collins, 1996.
Ruland, Richard, Malcolm Bradbury. Od puritanismu k postmodernismu. Praha: Mladá fronta, 1997.
Vančura, Zdeněk, ed. Slovník spisovatelů: Spojené státy americké. Praha: Odeon, 1979.
"When they had worked themselves into a frenzy, he brought the knife down hard. The blow was inaccurate and made a flesh wound. He raised the knife again and this time the lamb's violent struggles made him miss altogether. The knife broke on the altar. Steve and Jud pulled the animal's head back for him to saw at its throat, but only a small piece of blade remained in the handle and he was unable to cut through the matted wool".
The sacrifice of a lamb from Miss Lonelyheart (1933).