Term Paper: American Literature Influenced by Mccarthy

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McCarthy Blacklists

The Influence of McCarthyism on Literature

The McCarthy era began following WWII. Senator Joseph McCarthy started a witch hunt for communists. People were seeing, and reporting, communists behind every bush. Any activity which went against the status quo or the political power structure was considered subversive. Congress formed the House Unamerican Activities Committee and began a black list of people considered to be subversives, communist sympathizers and people who would not cooperate with the committee, which meant they would not testify against their fellows or name names of "other suspected subversives." The black list prevented anyone on it from working in the entertainment industry, publishing their work or often even from getting an ordinary job. It was a black time in American history and it practically handcuffed artists of all sorts. Some of those black listed never recovered, and some who caved under pressure never recovered their self-respect or the respect of the entertainment and publishing industries.

The black list began with ten screen writers from Hollywood in 1947. The ten called refused to testify, citing first amendment rights, tried to read statements of their own and refused to take an oath against communism. The executives of the film companies met the following week and issued the Waldorf Statement (after their meeting place) that the individuals would be fired or suspended without pay until they were cleared of contempt charges and had taken the oath that they were not communists. (Membership in any party, including the American Communist Party was not, and never has been, a crime.)

Between 1948 and 1950 this black list grew rapidly to include hundreds of writers, producers, actors and other entertainment industry professionals. The original Hollywood Ten were convicted of contempt and began serving jail sentences. The press conspired with the government to make life miserable for those individuals on the list, because it made good copy and sold newspapers.

Many of those who were black listed did not work in the industry for twenty years or more. Some of those who caved and testified trying to save themselves were unable to produce anything of value after that. Clifford Odets, a playwright of note had written some work involving union activity, which was seen as communist inspired, including "Waiting for Lefty," a one act play that with "Awake and Sing" are considered to be his signature pieces. He tried to resist the pressure when he was cited, but eventually caved, and he never recovered psychically from the experience. He never wrote another play of note, though he was active as an actor and did screenplays. Elia Kazan was one of the people Odets worked with and whom he named as a former member of the communist party. Kazan eventually forgave him, as did others in Hollywood, but Odets never forgave himself.

Lillian Hellman was another victim of the HUAC, along with her sometimes lover, celebrated detective novelist, Dashiell Hammet.

For his communist beliefs Hammett became a target during McCarthy's anti-Communist crusade. In 1951 he went to prison for five months rather than testify at the trial of four communists accused of conspiracy. He was blacklisted and when Internal Revenue Service claimed that he owed a huge amount in tax deficiencies, the federal government attacked his income. For a while the State Department kept his books away from the shelves of American libraries overseas.... Hammett died penniless of lung cancer on January 10, 1961." (Willow, Hank 2002)

Lillian Hellman was a Stalinist and she was called to testify, but refused, since they would not agree to question her only on her own past and present. She was advised by council that if she testified about herself, they could force her to speak about others.

Arthur Miller was another big name playwright who was blacklisted. While the McCarthy era squashed some literature, it also stimulated some great work. On Saturday June 17, 2000, Arthur Miller wrote, "It would probably never have occurred to me to write a play about the Salem witch trials of 1692 had I not seen some astonishing correspondences with that calamity in the America of the late 40s and early 50s. My basic need was to respond to a phenomenon which, with only small exaggeration, one could say paralyzed a whole generation and in a short time dried up the habits of trust and toleration in public discourse." (Miller, Arthur 2000) The plot of The Crucible deals with the Salem witch trials, and many readers and audience members do not even make the connection to McCarthy, especially the young. However, when it is pointed out, it is completely transparent.

There are those who believe that literature continues to be influenced by McCarthyism, but I suspect that the Internet has had a stronger influence towards freedom of speech. Many blacklisted writers of the era continued to write under pseudonyms and under the names of friends. Of course the content was influenced for some time.

Some of the most notable literature influenced by McCarthy was non-fiction reactions to the period, especially in academic studies of political science.

Some of these studies, most notably Richard Fried's Men Against McCarthy, continued to explore the ways in which Congress provided an institutional context for McCarthy and McCarthyism....on the "national security bureaucracy," that constellation of agencies that originated or expanded with the Cold War -- the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the military intelligence branches....Athan Theoharis, in Spying on Americans, showed how J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI had manipulated successive presidents in efforts to both shape and control the politics of anti-communism. "

Griffith xiv)

Griffith notes in many places the effects of McCarthyism on literature, both then and now. IN addition to the literature which was repressed, there is a huge body of literature about the time and its controlling forces, aims, villains and victims and its consequences.

Although it is in a distinct minority, there is even literature which supports Joseph McCarthy, or at least does not demonize him.

I see Ferreira 834) Just as there actually were communists in America at the time, and there was literature being written with a distinctly communist theme, (John Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle and Clifford Odets' Waiting for Lefty), there were plenty of people supporting McCarthy. He could not have accomplished what he did alone.

Much of the influence upon literature was also not McCarthy's doing, but occurred as a result of the reactions and interactions of writers of the times. In fact a couple of movements in literature sprang out of those times: populist and populist authoritarianism. Populist was, as is implied by the title, "of and for the people." It was the literature which got people in trouble. "This so-called populist authoritarianism does not appear to be associated with faith in the people. It may very well be that generalized deference and generalized "populism" are not alternatives but rather that the same people who are excessively suspicious of some authorities are excessively deferential to others....like the pluralists, most worried about stability and fearful of change. If a naive faith in the people and in progress is required to sustain tolerance and elite autonomy, this may be a paradox with which it would be dangerous to tamper.

Rogin 276)

It is interesting to note that during this time, anticommunist films and books suffered from a lack of talent on the part of the writers, and the very ideas the McCarthyists may have wanted to promote were avoided by talented writers. Anything really creative got the writers in trouble.

Scott did not pretend to analyze the antiCommunist films -- which were for the most part low-budget items made by second-rate talent. Looking at the best Hollywood had to offer, he concluded: "Few if any of the films made by these men and their colleagues since 1947 have dramatized the humanist, democratic, and antifascist values that illuminated their work in the Roosevelt era. Their talents remain, but the ideas to which they applied their talents have been eroded and forbidden." Thus "the blacklisting of other men was in reality the blacklisting of the liberals' own ideas." (Navasky, Victor 1980)

Oddly enough, the only place I was able to find a definitive blacklist was in Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollywood_blacklist.It lists most of the people blacklisted and offers links to information about them. There are quite a few unknown names on the list. These are those who sustained the worst damage to both reputations and their personalities. That is why they are unfamiliar. What happened to the rest varies. Many of them continued to write under pseudonyms while living in France or Spain. A remarkably interesting book written by a person on the list about the blacklist and its effects is Jean Rouberol, "We were appalled at the idea. How could we live? The hearings had continued, we knew, and those of our friends who had chosen to stay and ride out the blacklist were finding it hard to get any kind of work. One couldn't even get a job at the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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