Negotiating Tensions between Theory and Practice
Edited by Julie Wolfram Cox, Tony G. LeTrent-Jones, Maxim Voronov and David Weir
Chapter 7: Muckraking Novels: The Search for Another Paradigm
Stephen Sloane INTRODUCTION This chapter analyses three muckraking novels. These deeply philosophical literary works, written around the turn of the 20th Century, lift the veil that obscures the muck of reality: the greed of the individual, the inequity of society, the plight of the planet. Muckraking authors (the term was coined by Theodore Roosevelt) exposed graft and corruption in both government and business. This literary movement was started by McClure’s Magazine, which in 1902 published Lincoln Steffen’s article ‘Tweed Days in St. Louis’. Steffen’s article described corruption in the St Louis city government. Another article written, by Ida Tarbell, severely criticized the Standard Oil Company. These articles were factual in content, critical in tone and full of righteous indignation (Mowry 1958). Muckraking novels follow the tradition of Emile Zola in France. Zola was the founding father of a naturalist approach to fiction, an approach that aspired to examine the human condition with uttermost clarity. The naturalist-muckraking author looked at human existence with a discerning eye. What he saw was the darker side of laissez faire capitalism. Theodore Dreiser, in The Financier, tells us about the moral destruction of a capitalist, a person who forfeits his soul as he loses touch with his own humanity. In The Jungle, Upton Sinclair broadens the critical perspective by directing our attention to the economic and social system. For Dreiser, the phenomenon of concern is the impact of the capitalist on himself and on others: family, business associates, employees and so on. For Sinclair, the...
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