Because my high school English teacher had a philosophy that education was not confined to the school term, each year we were given a summer assignment which we were expected to complete and turn in on our return in the fall.
At the end of my junior year we were told to select an American author, read at least three novels or plays by him or her as well as a biography and write a term paper of no less than 25 pages in length. When I was given this assignment I selected Sinclair Lewis as my author subject..
I will admit to a bit of deviousness on my part in this selection as I had already read two of his novels, “Main Street” and “Babbitt” and I had asked my parents for the extensive biography which Mark Schorer had written several years earlier as a birthday present. But I would also have to say that I enjoyed Lewis’ acerbic style and his descriptions of life in America and I looked forward to reading several more of his works.
I threw myself head first into the project by reading “Dodsworth” and by the time that I had finished it my birthday had come around and the Lewis biography was beautifully gift wrapped and ready for my eager eyes. I tore into it rapaciously.
When I finished the biography I read six more of Lewis’ novels including “It Can’t Happen Here” which was published in 1935 and was a parody of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. The work was transposed to a sleeping America where the electorate allowed themselves to be seduced by a charismatic populist leader who bought their votes by offering them small sops, (the kitchen in every pot syndrome).
Ultimately, he consolidated his near unanimous support to assume dictatorial powers. But some few, true stalwarts who saw the insidious nature of this new dictator resisted and so the Second American Revolution was born. Perhaps you will see a corollary between this book written 78 years ago and today’s events.
Lewis was a fiercely partisan American. While his books often pointed to the pettiness of small-minded middle American individuals, nevertheless he believed that our people and our country, with all their faults, was the modern Prometheus and the shining beacon lighting the way for the whole world.
But because he was not afraid to tell it like it was, he had no compunctions about insulting anyone whom he felt was tarnishing the American dream and all who were hypocritical in the morality they preached and the immorality they lived. This caused Lewis to earn the moniker, “The most hated man in America.”
(And you thought this post was going to be about George Zimmerman, didn’t you)?
More on Lewis in the next post.