By Michael Spindler
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Extra resources for American Literature and Social Change: William Dean Howells to Arthur Miller
It was not until Dos Passos ' USA trilogy (1930-7) with its fragmented , collage structure that the multifariousness of American economic and social experience found an adequate literary form. Realism and Naturalism with their positivist emphasis on the primacy of fact and their preoccupation with new social formations articulated in a general wayan historically specific capitalist mentality. We now turn to a detailed reading of individual texts, grouped according to two general themes, to examine how the ideological confusions and contradictions created by rapid social change were dramatised there .
This indifference attributed to the metropolis strongly echoes the vast indifference of nature that Norris emphasised in his previous novel , The Octopus, and it was part of the mystification embodied by the Naturalists in their writings that the historical and socially produced conditions of alienation and cruelty in the city should be regarded as natural ones . The explanation for man's state, so their thinking went, was to be sought in nature, not society , and in order to understand this displacement we must tum to the intellectual origins of that philosophic determinism which social conditions fostered.
When in the 1890s and the early 1900s the merger movement and trustification displaced pure competition and the individualist basis of ownership , a 'tooth and claw' version of nature ceased to be a useful model for the business world and Spencer's philosophy lost its force to become a dead letter by 1918. 'The history of Darwinian individualism', Richard Hofstadter concludes in his survey of the intellectual movement , ' . . v' Throughout childhood and adolescence a person is socialised by means of family, school, religion and the media into the be haviour to which he must conform and the socially acceptable goals after which he must strive.