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American Writers And The SaccoVanzetti Case

American Writers And The Sacco-Vanzetti Case–by Carol Vanderveer Hamilton Essay, Research Paper Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.

American Writers And The Sacco-Vanzetti Case–by Carol Vanderveer Hamilton Essay, Research Paper

Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of

their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.

Thoreau

[Abstract] Although anarchism had long been publicly reviled in the

United States and particularly since the assassination of President McKinley in 1901 by a

self-proclaimed anarchist, and although Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman had been

expelled from the country in 1919, a number of prominent American writers took up the

cause of two Italian anarchists who were arrested for robbery and murder in 1927. The

behavior and attitudes of these writers belie the dominant impression, fostered by the New

Critics, that American modernism was utterly conservative in its political and social

attitudes. Social class and notions of gender and race played a prominent role in how the

case was represented by these writers and by the official media.

"As late as the 1920s," wrote James Joll in his history of anarchism,

"two Italian anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti, were to provide a cause c?l?bre

in which a whole generation of American liberals came of age."[1] Nichola Sacco, a shoemaker, and Bartolomeo

Vanzetti , a fish peddlar, immigrated from Italy to the United States in 1908. The two did

not meet until 1917, when each avoided conscription by fleeing to Mexico. They became

attracted to anarchist ideas out of sympathy for their fellow workers and disillusionment

about their adopted country. On April 15, 1920 in South Braintree, Massachusetts, a

paymaster and guard were killed during a robbery; three weeks later Sacco and Vanzetti

were arrested and charged with the crime. The evidence was problematic and both men had

alibis, but after seven years of imprisonment, many motions, and a last-minute review of

the case by the Governor of Massachusetts and the Presidents of Harvard and MIT, Sacco and

Vanzetti were found guilty. “When a verdict of guilty was returned,” writes Paul

Avrich, “many believed that the men had been convicted because of their foreign birth

and radical beliefs, not on solid evidence of criminal guilt.”[2]

In an eloquent speech that became famous, Vanzetti protested his innocence and

concluded by representing the execution as an act of "propaganda by the deed"

that took as its target the anarchists themselves:

If it had not been for this, I might have live out my life, talking at street corners

to scorning men. I might have die, unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure.

This is our career and our triumph. Never in our full life can we do such a work for

tolerance, for justice, for man`s understanding of man, as we now do by an accident. Our

words — our lives– our pains– nothing! The taking of our lives — lives of a good

shoemaker and a poor fish-peddlar — all! The last moment belongs to us — that agony is

our triumph![3]

Sacco and Vanzetti were electrocuted on August 23, 1927. Their trial had provoked

international protests. Bernard Shaw, Anatole France, and Albert Einstein wrote letters on

behalf of the anarchists.[4] Romain Rolland sent a telegram to Governor Fuller.

Members of the picket line were bailed out on a regular basis by Edward James, the nephew

of Henry. Explaining the prominence of novelists and poets among the protestors, writer

Malcolm Cowley said that some of the Massachusetts officials "turned themselves into

parodies of everything that artists hate in the bourgeoisie,"[5] and Upton

Sinclair remarked in his novel Boston that "the case worked upon the

consciences of persons who were cursed with artistic temperaments."[6]

The novelist John Dos Passos wrote the following account of the artistic community of

Greenwich Village after World War I, a description consciously resonant of the anarchists

and artists in fin-de-si?cle France:

American Bohemia was in revolt against Main Street [High Street], against the power of

money, against Victorian morals. Freedom was the theme. … The businessman could never

understand. It was part of a worldwide revolt of artists and would-be artists and thinkers

and would-be thinkers against a society where most of the rewards went to people skillful

in the manipulation of money … When artists and writers found it hard to make themselves

a niche in industrial society, they repudiated the whole business. Greenwich Village was

their refuge, the free commune of Montmartre on American soil. Les bourgeois ? la

lanterne.[7]

Modernism as it has been constructed by major theorists on both the left and the right

excludes or marginalizes texts written about the Sacco and Vanzetti case and the authors

who wrote them, partly because such theorists argue about the same writers—e.g.,

Joyce, Kafka, Eliot–and and partly because critics have tended to understand modernism as

either protofascist or apolitical, thereby excluding not only "traditional

realism" but also what Fredric Jameson calls "old-fashioned political art of the

socialist realist type." In 1969 an Americanist named Maxwell Geismar, describing the

reworking of the canon in the 1950s, wrote the following account of its revision by

conservatives and New Critics:

As a historian of American literature I wondered why all the major figures whom I

admired–from Howells and Mark Twain to Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Ellen Glasgow and

Thomas Wolfe–were in such eclipse. I wondered why Melville, a great American radical and

social reformer, was being made into such a conservative. … I wondered why Scott

Fitzgerald, an attractive novelist of manners at best, was being revived so heavily, while

the American Twenties were being glorified … It was then I suddenly realized why

Sherwood Anderson, Dreiser, Tom Wolfe, who had all been radical figures of the period,

were being read out of American literature. [8]

In both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, novels critical of the existing social

structure, with its restricted distribution of wealth and power and concomitant

injustices, tended toward realism and naturalism. Proponents of this art considered

accessibility, sentiment, and realism necessary political weapons in the arsenal of

opposition. Members of the Frankfurt School debated the efficacy of such artistic

strategies; Bertolt Brecht and Theodor Adorno argued that these tactics, having been

coopted by the "culture industry," were not conducive to the demystification of

social structures. While his fellow Marxist Georg Luk?cs condemned modernism for its

complicity with the dissolution of the subject and social relations under capitalism,

Adorno attacked American mass culture, arguing that "hermetic works can be, and are,

more critical of the status quo than those that go in for tangible social criticism but in

so doing make use of non-radical forms, thus giving tacit recognition to the rampantly

flourishing culture industry." [9] When modernism is constructed differently and less

narrowly, however, its politics also appear different. In The Politics of Modernism

Raymond Williams argued that canonical modernism is "a highly selected version of the

modern"; he urged that critics "search out and counterpose an alternative

tradition taken from the neglected works left in the wide margin of the century."

[10] Many of these neglected works are implicitly or explicitly engaged with oppositional

politics.

Both as a historical event and as a neglected issue in 20th-century American

literature, the Sacco-Vanzetti case raises a number of interrelated, layered issues:

first, the racialized class politics of the trial, with its overt anti-immigrant animus;

secondly, the rich history of the trial’s setting, which seemed to underscore the

issues of rebellion and freedom; thirdly, the formal strategies of the writers who

attempted to represent the trial, and the way in which assumptions about gender

participated in, or were resisted by, those representations; and finally, the current

neglect of these texts and others of the period, in a country whose apparently brief

historical memory allowed its media to dub the O.J. Simpson case “the trial of the

century.”

Katherine Anne Porter, John Dos Passos, and Edna St. Vincent Millay were among those

who picketed and were arrested at the trial.[11] Porter (1890-1980) was a Texas-born

short-story writer and novelist who made a name for herself with her first collection, Flowering

Judas (1930). Her most famous novel was Ship of Fools (1962), which she had

worked on for two decades; it was made into a film with an international cast. In 1966

Porter was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Millay, born two

years after Millay in Maine and a graduate of Vassar, was most famous for her lyric poems

and sonnets; she had published numerous collections by the time of her death in 1950 and

secured a place in American literary history. Dos Passos, born in 1896 in Chicago, was a

graduate of Harvard who went on to drive an ambulance in France during World War I and

then to write about his first book about his war experiences. His most famous literary

achievement is the trilogy entitled U.S.A. , which describes the lives of both

fictional and historical characters in the social dramas and conflicts of the first

decades of the twentieth century. The third volume of the trilogy, The Big Money,

takes the Sacco-Vanzetti case as representative of a number of disturbing trends in the

American public sphere—corruption, commercialism, exploitation, injustice. Upton

Sinclair, whose novel Boston is the longest text dedicated to the subject of

Sacco and Vanzetti, belonged to another generation than Porter, Millay, and Dos Passos;

born in 1878 in Baltimore, he is known primarily as a socialist, California candidate for

public office, and muckraking novelist, who published more than 100 works of fiction and

nonfiction between 1901-1940 and who continued writing into his last years. His most

famous novel, and the one most likely to be studied in American classrooms, is The

Jungle (1906), an expos? of the meatpacking industry in Chicago.

Three of the texts in this article –Upton Sinclair`s Boston, Katherine

Anne Porter`s memoir The Never-Ending Wrong, and Edna St. Vincent Millay`s poem

"Justice Denied in Massachusetts"– do go in, contrary to Adorno`s negative

aesthetics, for "tangible social criticism" in "non-radical forms";

the fourth, John Dos Passos`s The Big Money, deploys its modernist innovations in

the service of political engagement and has accordingly remained on the margins of the

canon. The protestors adopted different strategies to record their obsessive or enduring

interest in the case. Porter`s memoir is a brief, conflicted retrospective of her personal

involvement in the protests. Sinclair`s massive two-volume "documentary novel" Boston,

rather like a forerunner of Truman Capote`s "nonfiction novel," attempts after

much research to present both the historical specifics of the case and imagined

supplementary characters and conversations. By contrast, Dos Passos`s The Big Money,

like its two predecessors in the trilogy USA, adopts modernist narrative

strategies not to evade the political or to invent a private language but to represent the

various public discourses and ideological conflicts of the 1920s, including the

Sacco-Vanzetti case. Many more novels, plays, and poems were written about Sacco and

Vanzetti; an overview of this literature appears in Louis Joughin and Edmund Morgan`s The

Legacy of Sacco and Vanzetti.[12] Of the reception of these works the

authors comment:

Novels of the extreme left usually suffer a curious fate; they are overpraised by those

whose political sympathies lie with the author, and are undervalued by neutral or liberal

critics. This fact is not entirely irrelevant to the Sacco-Vanzetti literature; it, too,

as a class of writing, has usually met the same judgment by predisposition. [13]

Most of those who wrote about the case were not anarchists, but all were moved to

action by the injustice of the trial, apparently a sequel to the Haymarket trial of

1886-87, which had also attracted the sympathy of intellectuals for those anarchists,

accused of throwing a bomb and starting a riot in Chicago. The American intellectuals

involved in the Sacco-Vanzetti case were fellow travelers of sorts, partially attracted by

anarchism`s humanitarian principles, its outrage against social and economic injustice,

its ambivalence toward modernity, but simultaneously critical of the anarchist propensity

to violence, "propaganda by the deed."

As Sacco and Vanzetti`s supporters recognized, it was both ironic and appropriate that

Boston was the location of the two anarchists` trial and execution. In his novel about the

case, entitled simply Boston, Upton Sinclair often alludes to the history of the

city : the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, the Liberty Bell, the Brahmins who

claimed descent from the first Puritan settlers. "An odd turn of fate," writes

Sinclair of Vanzetti, "that this Italian seeker of liberty should have been convicted

within sight of Plymouth Rock, and killed on ground over which Paul Revere had

ridden." [14] Boston is the setting of Hawthorne`s "My Kinsman, Major

Molineux," Henry James`s The Bostonians, and the beginning of The

Education of Henry Adams, whose author observes, "Politics … had always been

the systematic organization of hatreds, and Massachusetts politics had been as harsh as

the climate." [15] The Commonwealth of Massachusetts had been the scene of

prior infamous trials, both historical (the Salem witch trials) and fictional (The

Scarlet Letter). William Lloyd Garrison published the antislavery newspaper The

Liberator in Boston. More than perhaps any other American city, Boston is a complex

site of rebellion and tradition, of hereditary class privilege and immigration — all

elements of the Sacco-Vanzetti case. The executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, like the

executions of the Haymarket anarchists, exposed contradictions in the social imaginary of

a unified America. The executions also supported the claims of anarchist theorists that

justice and the State were incompatible.

Another figure haunting the Sacco-Vanzetti trial had lived in New England. In his

political essays David Henry Thoreau, who like Godwin has been described as a

"philosophical anarchist," [16] inveighed against institutionalized forms

of injustice, in particular the Fugitive Slave Act, the Mexican War, and the execution of

John Brown. Thoreau`s general criticisms of government often echo Godwin`s. The opening

sentences of "Civil Disobedience" are still quoted by anarchists; Thoreau`s

criticism of voting ("all voting is a sort of gaming … playing with moral

questions"), his distrust of law and institutions, and his advocacy of rebellion

against state-sanctioned injustice are intrinsic to anarchist theory. His bitter attack on

his home state in the essay "Slavery in Massachusetts," an assault on its

judges, governor, press, and complacent citizenry, prefigures many of critiques made by

Sacco and Vanzetti`s supporters. "My thoughts are murder to the State," Thoreau

wrote of Massachusetts`s enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, "and invariably go

plotting against her." [17] In "A Plea for Captain John Brown," Thoreau

even endorsed the use of force in a righteous cause. Emma Goldman called him "the

greatest American Anarchist."

The Sacco and Vanzetti case exposed the limits of American freedom because the two men

were, as Italian immigrants, not just ethnically but racially marked by the Bostonians and

because as anarchists they opposed the very idea of the nation-state. Perhaps Sacco and

Vanzetti were misled by the similarity of the American keywords–freedom, liberty,

equality–to the anarchist keywords. "I was crazy to come to this country,"

Sacco said in his imperfect English during the trial, "because I was liked a free

country." Despite an indigenous tradition of anarchist thought—anarchists and

their historians like to quote anti-statist remarks made by Paine, Jefferson, Emerson,

Thoreau, and Benjamin Tucker–and the pacifist nature of much anarchist theory, anarchism

was associated in the American press with immigrants like Emma Goldman and with acts of

violence like the McKinley assassination and Alexander Berkman’s assault on Frick.

Because all four authors were personally and emotionally involved in the Sacco-Vanzetti

trial, their texts are deliberate acts of memory and reparation, variations of the elegy;

they are thus engaged with sentiment, with feeling, which is, as Suzanne Clark argues,

taboo in what became canonized as modernist.

Explaining how this taboo functions to exclude women writers, Clark notes that "as

an epithet, sentimental condenses the way gender still operates as a political

unconscious within criticism to trigger shame, embarrassment, and disgust." [18]

Male writers of this period who espoused oppositional politics were also accused of

sentimentality. Edmund Wilson wrote disparagingly: "When a man as intelligent as Dos

Passos–that is, a man a good deal more intelligent than, say, Michael Gold or Upton

Sinclair [both defenders of Sacco and Vanzetti], who hold similar political views–when so

intelligent a man and so good an artist allows his bias so to falsify his picture of life

that, in spite of all the accurate observation and all the imaginative insight, its values

are partly those of melodrama–we begin to guess some stubborn sentimentalism

at the bottom of the whole thing, some deeply buried streak of hysteria"

[19] [italics added]. According to Wilson, gender is not a matter of a writer`s biological

sex but of his or her politics; male writers also can seem sentimental, melodramatic, and

hysterical if they support or defend political dissidents.

Because of her loyalty to traditional poetic forms, particularly the sonnet, many

critics have not assigned Edna St. Vincent Millay to the modernist canon. Her poem,

"Justice Denied in Massachusetts,” is marked by rhymes and archaic inversions of

word order, both contrary to the dominant critical accounts of modernist poetic

practice—free verse rather than rhyme and meter, urban concerns, characters, and

cityscapes as in Baudelaire’s poetry and, later, Eliot’s “Prufrock,”

rather than the natural landscapes of the Romantics. In his book Axel’s Castle (1931)

, Wilson helped formulate the criteria by which modernist texts were recognized as such.

Modernist poets who met these criteria tended to be formally radical and innovative, but

politically reactionary. Millay’s way of life was bohemian and her politics

progressive, but her poetry formally conservative.

Only the title of "Justice Denied" suggests a specific event; it does not

refer to executions, courthouses, picket lines. In its lack of referential directness and

its oblique imagery, the poem might at first reading be interpreted as a flight from the

political, but it is a poem about the failure of agency and opposition. Displacing its

subject from the city of Boston to the countryside, “Jutice Denied” is a lament,

mourning both the executed men and a generation`s fruitless efforts to save them, couched

in imagery instantly recognizable as "poetic" — natural, autumnal – making

an extended analogy between the event of the title and a blight upon nature. The two

displacements — from society to nature and from city to country — might seem in

accordance with familiar Marxist critiques as they suggest a naturalizing, even a

depoliticizing, of the subject. The poem`s inclusive gesture toward the reader ( "Let

us abandon then our gardens" ) presumably refers to the protestors or to their

generation and therefore possesses a certain resonance, since it takes the place of the

solitary, lyrical subjectivity, and suggests some form of comradeship, even in defeat. It

is, however, apparently a private "we" — hence the retreat to domestic space–

and not the public, political "we" of, for example, "We the People."

The poem in its entirety reads as follows:

JUSTICE DENIED IN MASSACHUSETTS

Let us abandon then our gardens and go home

And sit in the sitting room.

Shall the larkspur blossom or the corn grow under this cloud?

Sour to the fruitful seed

Is the cold earth under this cloud,

Fostering quack and weed, we have marched upon but cannot conquer;

We have bent the blades of our hoes against the stalks of them.

Let us go home, and sit in the sitting room.

Not in our day

Shall the cloud go over and the sun rise as before,

Beneficent upon us

Out of the glittering bay,

And the warm winds be blown inward from the sea

Moving the blades of corn

With a peaceful sound.

Forlorn, forlorn,

Stands the blue hay-rack by the empty mow.

And the petals drop to the ground,

Leaving the tree unfruited.

The sun that warmed our stooping backs and withered the weed uprooted

We shall not feel it again.

We shall die in darkness, and be buried in the rain.

What from the splendid dead

We have inherited –

Furrows sweet to the grain, and the weed subdued –

See now the slug and the mildew plunder.

Evil does overwhelm

The larkspur and the corn;

We have seen them go under.

Let us sit here, sit still,

Here is the sitting-room until we die;

At the step of Death on the walk, rise and go;

Leaving to our children`s children this beautiful doorway,

And this elm,

And a blighted earth to till

With a broken hoe.

In the essay "Tension in Poetry" the conservative poet and critic Allen Tate

(1899-1972) uses "Justice Denied" as an example of "the poetry of mass

language" which he finds present "equally in a ladylike lyric and in much of the

political poetry of our time." [20] Mass language, he explains, is "the medium

of `communication,` and its users are less interested in bringing to formal order what is

sometimes called the `affective state` than in arousing that state." ( Tate`s

valorization of "formal order" is in opposition to an implicit anarchy.) In

expressing this view Tate might seem to be in accord with Adorno`s condemnation of

"non-radical forms." But while both Tate and Adorno seem to champion some formal

departure from familiar conventions, their motives differ. Adorno understands modernist

"negative aesthetics" as subversive of the culture industry and the commodity

form. But when Tate writes that "today many poets are driven to inventing private

languages, or very narrow ones, because public speech has become heavily tainted with mass

feeling," he is blaming democracy, not capitalism, for the decline of the aesthetic.

"Mass" is his code word, which he sets in explicit opposition to the

"language of the people which interested the late W.B. Yeats." In this context

"people" is a counterpart of Volk, Yeats having taken as his ideal a

hierarchical, agricultural society ruled by a hereditary aristocracy. [21] And Tate`s

opposition people/mass is, of course, gendered. As Andreas Huyssen observes, "The

fear of the masses in this age of declining liberalism is always also a fear of

woman." [22]

As a poet`s critique, Tate`s attack on "Justice Denied" is rather peculiar.

He writes:

From this stanza by Miss Millay we infer that her splendid ancestors made the earth a

good place that has somehow gone bad — and you get the reason from the title:

"Justice Denied in Massachusetts." How Massachusetts could cause a general

dessication, why (as we are told in a footnote to the poem) the execution of Sacco and

Vanzetti should have anything to do with the rotting of the crops, it is never made clear.

These lines are mass language: they arouse an affective state in one set of terms, and

suddenly an object quite unrelated to those terms gets the benefit of it; and this effect,

which is usually achieved, as I think it is here, without conscious effort, is

sentimentality.

Apparently metaphor itself is for Tate a violation of good taste or poetic

"tension." His misunderstanding of the metaphor seems willful; clearly, it is

not "Massachusetts" but "the denial of justice" that has caused

"a general dessication." Adopting Tate`s logic, one might make a similar

objection to the impotence of the Fisher King and the drought of The Waste Land.

Tate finally dismisses "Justice Denied" as follows: "the lines and even the

entire poem are impossibly obscure. I am attacking here the fallacy of communication in

poetry. (I am not attacking social justice.)" He seems to endorse a Mallarm?an

retreat from communication while simultaneously condemning poetic obscurity. An avowed

reactionary himself (one 1936 book is entitled Reactionary Essays on Poetry and Ideas)

Tate does not accuse Millay of reactionary poetics.

The implication that the poem merely cedes political terrain to the victor is

problematic in view of Millay`s passionate opposition to the injustice that inspired the

poem. She did not, after all, sit in her room and read the newspapers; still less did she

approve of the trial. In fact, she first read "Justice Denied in Massachusetts"

at a public rally on Salem Street, perhaps on August 11, 1927, about two weeks before the

execution, or (which seems more likely ) hours before on August 22.[23] Communication was

clearly her intent. The context suggests that the poem was written for an act of public

mourning.

On the picket line Millay had carried a sign that read: "If these men are

executed, justice is dead in Massachusetts." [24] The similarity to the poem`s title

is obvious, but whereas the placard is unequivocal, the poem is elusive. The blunt

"dead" is replaced by the judicial "denied" (as in "the appeal

was denied"). The message of the placard having failed, the poem replaces it. Read in

public, it instantiates the private. The public "we" of the crowd dissolves

after the execution into the private "we" of the poem. Malcolm Cowley described

that night in Exile`s Return: "Afterward I talked with some of the people

who had joined in that strange nocturnal march…[After the execution] suddenly they wept

or fell silent, they separated, and many of them walked the streets alone, all night. Just

as the fight for a common cause had brought the intellectuals together, so the defeat

drove them apart, each into his personal isolation." [25]

The sad, defeated quality of "Justice Denied in Massachusetts" finds an echo

in Katherine Anne Porter`s 1977 memoir The Never-Ending Wrong, written, from

notes made during the protests, three years before the author`s death at age 90 and

published on the fiftieth anniversary of the execution. Like "Justice Denied,"

the memoir is about an "incurable wound" to the protestor`s sense of justice and

humanity ( The Never-Ending Wrong, 50, 62). Explaining her own participation,

Porter specifies the role of sentiment: "I still had my reasons for being there to

protest the terrible penalty they were condemned to suffer; these reasons were of the

heart, which I believe appears in these pages with emphasis" [italics added].

[26] An editorial in The Nation, August 31, 1927, also affirmed the

"heart": "The human heart is not yet so corroded that it can read off the

extinction of these two men without a shock to the very roots of its belief in justice and

humanity. " But as Porter`s memoir makes clear, this sympathy is problematic in view

of the barrier of social class; Porter quotes Vanzetti, who formulated the opposition thus

in a letter: "Although we are one heart, unfortunately we represent

two opposite class" [italics added] (NEW, 11). As history would

prove, social class would take precedence over sentiment, as members of the

established, WASP upper class, nicknamed the Boston Brahmins, joined forces to execute the

immigrant workers. But sentiment retains a utopian element, a potential for uniting

people, particularly women, across class interests. After describing other women`s

reponses to Mrs. Sacco, Porter writes:

I was mistaken in my anxiety — their wish to help, to show her their concern was real,

their feelings were true and lasting, no matter how awkwardly expressed; their love and

tenderness and wish to help were from the heart. All through those last days in Boston,

those strangely innocent women enlisted their altar societies, their card clubs, their

literary round tables, their music circles, and their various charities in the campaign to

save Sacco and Vanzetti…bringing money they had collected in the endless, wittily

devious ways of women`s organizations. They would talk among themselves and to her about

how they felt, with tears in their eyes, promising to come again soon with more help. They

were known as "sob sisters" by the cynics and the hangers-on of the committee I

belonged to who took their money and described their activities as "sentimental

orgies." (NEW, 37-38)

While identifying to some degree with these women, Porter also attempts to stake out a

political stance that is distinct from that of anarchists, communists, and capitalists,

but her sympathies shift back and forth throughout the text. The Never-Ending Wrong

expresses some of the ambivalence of the fellow traveler while confessing to a

"lifelong sympathy for the cause to which they [Emma Goldman and Peter Kropotkin]

devoted their lives–to ameliorate the anguish that human beings inflict on each

other–the never-ending wrong, forever incurable" (NEW, 62). Porter

describes herself as a "registered member of the Democratic Party, a convinced

liberal" (NEW, 14) and as bourgeois; she expresses hostility to both

the communists involved in the protests and to the capitalists who celebrate the

executions. She expresses an anarchist`s critique of the communist obedience to the party

hierarchy : "The air was stiff with the cold, mindless, irrational compliance with

orders from `higher up` " (NEW, 13). After the execution, Porter`s

wrath is directed at the Brahmins and capitalists. She describes taking the elevator

with three entirely correct old gentlemen looking much alike in their sleekness,

pinkness, baldness, glossiness of grooming, such stereotypes as no proletarian novelist of

the time would have dared to use as the example of a capitalist monster in his novel …

One of them said to the others in a cream-cheese voice, "It is very pleasant to know

we may expect things to settle down properly again, " and the others nodded with

wise, smug, complacent faces. To this day I can feel again my violent desire just to slap

his whole slick face all over at once, hard, with the flat of my hand, or better, some

kind of washing bat or any useful domestic appliance being applied where it would really

make an impression — a butter paddle — something he would feel through that smug layer

of too-well-fed fat. (NEW, 49)

In this incident Porter seems infected with the violence generally attributed to

anarchists, who had much the same motive, but her urge takes explicitly gendered terms –

"washing bat," " butter paddle" — as if she were pitting the female

domestic worker against the male capitalist. Her fantasies become more violent –

"pushing him down an endless flight of stairs, or dropping him without warning into a

bottomless well, or stringing him up to a stout beam" (NEW, 50). But she is

horrified by these thoughts; recognizing that the unfair executions had caused "some

incurable wound to her very humanity," she writes: "My conscience stirs as if,

in my impulse to do violence to my enemy, I had assisted at his crime" (NEW, 50).

Her violent anger is another kind of "sentiment," not sympathy but outrage, also

taboo as an unseemly emotion. Unable to align herself wholeheartedly with either the

women`s clubs, the anarchists, or the communists, Porter is exemplary of the fellow

traveler who is committed in opposition to a specific injustice but not committed to a

particular totalizing critique of its cause. This negative stance is both the virtue and

the weakness of the fellow traveler, who remains uncontaminated but isolated and therefore

powerless.

Porter recognizes the explosiveness of Sacco and Vanzetti`s particular political

loyalty, with its reputation for violence: "A fearful word had been used to cover the

whole list of prejudices and misinformation, and in some deeply mysterious way, their

[Sacco and Vanzetti`s] name had been associated with it — Anarchy … not even the word

`Communism` struck such terror, anger, and hatred into the popular mind" (NEW,

6). Sometimes Porter endorses an anarchist assessment of the ills of society, and at other

times she voices the most stereotypical objection to the elimination of government, as in

the following passage:

Fascism, Nazism, new names for very ancient evil forms of government — tyranny and

dictatorship — came into fashion almost at the same time with Communism … But Anarchy

had been here all the nineteenth century, with its sinister offspring Nihilism, and it is

a simple truth that the human mind can face better the most oppressive government, the

most rigid restrictions, than the awful prospect of a lawless, frontierless world. Freedom

is a dangerous intoxicant and very few people can tolerate it in any quantity; it brings

out the old raiding, oppressing, murderous instincts, the rage for revenge, for power, the

lust for bloodshed. (NEW, 7)

This Hobbesian passage exposes the limits of Porter`s political thinking, assuming the

worst of human beings` "instincts" and ultimately preferring oppression to

freedom.

In her memoir Porter imagines political engagement not in terms of a conversion

narrative but of a fall from grace, from "youthful" faith in humanity and

optimism about the future into "mature" disillusionment and pessimism. She

affirms the value of sentiment but sees it as impotent, writing of Vanzetti`s final words,

his idealism: "It is very grand and noble in words and grand, noble souls have died

for it — it is worth weeping for. But it doesn`t work out so well" (NEW,

61 ). The end of Millay`s poem situates the "we" in a posture of resignation;

similarly, Porter describes the mood after the executions: " In my whole life I have

never felt such a weight of pure bitterness, helpless anger in utter defeat, outraged love

and hope as hung over us in that room" (NEW, 48).

Porter and Millay`s written responses to the Sacco-Vanzetti case are personal and

epiphanic, and in this they contrast with Upton Sinclair`s Boston, a novel over

750 pages long which attempts to detail every aspect of the case. Sinclair considered

himself a socialist, but he had read and been influenced by Kropotkin`s books, Mutual

Aid and Appeal to the Young. [27] In the author`s preface Sinclair calls Boston

"a contemporary historical novel" and acknowledges that it is "an

unusual art-form," compounded of real and imaginary characters (B,

xxxv). Boston is not a roman ? clef ; the historical characters –

Sacco, Vanzetti, Judge Thayer, Governor Fuller, and others involved in the trial — are

called by their real names. "The story has no hero but the truth," Sinclair

explained, " and its heroines are two women, one old and the other young, who are

ardently seeking the truth" (B, xxxvi). Howard Zinn refers to the novel`s

"feminist impulse," explaining that Sinclair`s first wife, Meta Fuller, had

given him Charlotte Perkins Gilman`s Women and Economics which, along with

subsequent feminist reading, led Sinclair to support birth control and pay for housewives,

among other women`s issues. [28] His choice of an older (sixty-year-old) woman as the main

character is particularly striking in light of the conventions of the novel: the German Bildungsroman,

the young Frenchman from the provinces who comes to the city, the protagonist of the

modernist novel who is, like Joseph K. of The Trial, a thirty-year-old

man. Sinclair, who received a lot of hate mail, was attacked for his feminist beliefs; in

a response to one, he wrote," I am grateful to you for your kindness in seeking to

educate me, but I think I ought to explain to you that you are dealing with a hopeless

case. I was one of the few men who marched in the first woman suffrage parade in New York

more than twenty years ago, and I am an ardent feminist." [29]

Boston opens with an emancipation. Cornelia Thornwell`s husband, a Brahmin

whose inherited wealth came from the ownership of cotton mills, is found dead at his desk

like the villainous Colonel Pyncheon in Hawthorne`s opening to The House of the Seven

Gables. Cornelia is consequently "told of her release" (B, 1). She

sheds no tears for her dead husband, tolerates with some difficulty the squabblings of her

children and grandchildren over their inheritance, and leaves after the funeral to become

a lodger in the same house where Vanzetti lives and to work in a cordage factory owned by

a family friend. Cornelia`s late rebellion against her class is partially explicable in

terms of her own origins, which are Irish, not Brahmin. But she explains her departure as

consistent with New England history and thought:

"For forty years [Cornelia says] I did what I was told was my duty … Now for the

rest of my life I am going to be an individual, and not a cog in the family machine. And

while that may seem terrible to you, you can comfort yourself with the fact that it is

real `Boston`–old `Boston,` the very best there is. Everything that is glorious in our

history has been made by people who have `come out,` and fought some prevailing sentiment

[she names Sam and John Quincy Adams, Emerson, Thoreau, Garrison, Wendell Phillips, James

Russell Lowell, Thomas Wentworth Higginson]…Boston history has been made by the `saving

minority.`" (B, 120-21)

In The Education, the self-proclaimed "conservative Christian

anarchist" Henry Adams concurs: "resistance to something was the law of New

England nature." [30]

In Boston, as in The Never-Ending Wrong, the opposition between

social class and sentiment is foregrounded, and again the utopian hope is that sentiment

can bridge the gulf between classes. Like the "sob sisters" of Porter`s account,

Cornelia is accounted a sentimentalist by both the "revolutionists" and the

wealthy, who believe that class interests will always ultimately take precedence over

humanitarian feelings:

The Brinis [the family in whose house she boards] had long ago found out who Cornelia

was; they knew that she came from a great rich family; yet not all the cruel "class

consciousness" could weaken their trust in her. It seemed to Cornelia that this

offered some hint of how to avoid the stresses of the war between capital and labor; also

for the bitter strife between the old Yankees and the new foreigners, and for the

"crime wave," and many other troubles of the time. But when she told that theory

to her friends of the great world, they called it "sentimental," and went on

with their wiser and more practical plan of jailing and deporting and killing. Also most

of the so-called "class-consciousness" revolutionists would have agreed that

Cornelia`s program was "sentimental"; so apparently the jailing and deporting

and killing had to continue. (B, 199)

Despite or perhaps partly because of the violence on both sides, Sinclair underlines

the similarities between the ideas of revolutionary New England and those of anarchist

revolutionaries. Told of the anarchist doctrine that each person is "a law unto

himself," Cornelia responds: "That ought to frighten me, but we New Englanders

were raised on that creed — we called it Transcendentalism" (B, 232).

Cousin Letitia, a proper spinster who chaperones Cornelia`s granddaughter Betty around

Europe, meets some of these revolutionaries; in a letter home Betty writes: "When she

[Letitia] was in school, she was taught to admire the revolutionary leaders of New

England, and now that she meets those in Europe, she finds them highly educated men"

(B, 185). And a French communist editor observes that "there are few

anarchist book shops without copies of Thoreau`s `Duty of Civil Disobedience` " (B,

232). The conflict between the anarchist cause and the Brahmins is formulated as another

moment in Boston`s historical dialectic between liberty and consolidated power.

But the clear division between the Brahmin class and their social subordinates is,

Sinclair suggests, destabilized by the American preoccupation with race. As Italians,

Sacco and Vanzetti`s "whiteness" is questioned by their American-born fellow

workers, who therefore align themselves with the Brahmins. As was the case with Irish

immigrants in the nineteenth century, white skin is not a matter of biology and European

descent; it is put into question by the immigrants` poverty. The anarchists` alibis for

the robbery were supported only by their fellow countrymen; by contrast, another accused

man, Orciani, "had been able to produce an American alibi … he could produce his

boss and several other `white men` to swear he had been at his machine all day" (B,

237). The "white" jurors are also unsympathetic to the Italians:

One by one the jurors were selected; Arthur W. Burgess, shoemaker of the town of

Hanson, Henry S. Burgess, caretaker of the town of Wareham, Joseph Frawley, shoe-finisher

of the town of Brockton, Charles A. Gale, clerk, of the town of Norwell–so it went, all

Anglo-Saxon names…such little people of the old stock, having failed for one reason or

another to become rich, looked with bitter contempt upon the immigrants who came pouring

into the country, to beat down wages and make life harder for the "white men" of

New England. Far from having any sense of class solidarity, they clung to the American

idea that their children would rise and join the leisure class; their attitude to the

Italian was that of the poor whites of the south to the Negroes. "All these wops

stand together," said one juryman to another, discussing the case at lunch in a

restaurant. (B, 251)

While the jurors cherish the American dream of unlimited upward mobility, the judge of

the Sacco-Vanzetti case is tormented by awareness of the limits of that mobility. Sinclair

sees class anxiety at work in the unjudicial behavior of Judge Web Thayer, who publically

expressed animosity toward the anarchists while the case was before him ("Did you see

what I did to those anarchistic bastards?"); Thayer did not come from a

"blue-blood" family, lived in Worcester, not the Back Bay, and had attended

Dartmouth instead of Harvard (B, 249-50). As a member of the class to which

Thayer vainly aspires, Cornelia Thornwell recognizes Thayer`s "inferiority complex, a

sense of the gulf which yawned between him and the great ones of his community, and which

he would never cross, even though he won his way to the Supreme Judicial Bench" (B,

249). While the women of Sinclair`s Boston are fluid, able to transgress class

boundaries, the men are fixed in place by anxiety over racial, economic, or social status.

In true anarchist fashion Boston argues that capitalism and the state are the

chief practitioners of violence; the villains are either bankers and factory magnates,

like Cornelia`s Brahmin in-laws, or state officials, like Governor Fuller and Judge

Thayer. Having researched all the shady aspects of the case, Sinclair presents in detail

the manipulations and deceptions of those in power. While Sacco and Vanzetti express the

views of workers and anarchists, Cornelia`s function in the novel is to articulate from

"inside" criticisms of privilege, prejudices, and court procedure; her high

social standing allows her access to the powerful historical figures of the case, whom she

confronts. Sinclair’s only modernist strategy is that of juxtaposition: contrasting

scenes for ironic effect. He even collected funds to send signed copies of Boston

to as many university libraries as possible. Public access to the information he

accumulated for the novel was part of his reason for writing it.

Like Upton Sinclair, John Dos Passos was active in the protests against the conviction

and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. His politically engaged U.S.A. trilogy and Manhattan

Transfer differ from novels like Ulysses and To the Lighthouse in

that they incorporate the "stream of consciousness" of the public sphere as well

as that of individual subjectivity. Following Malcolm Cowley, Granville Hicks, and Isidor

Schneider, Barbara Foley takes the three volumes of U.S.A. as examples of the

"collective novel," formally modernist but ideologically an offspring of

proletarian fiction, which in turn has its origins in the "liberal critical realist

tradition … of Bleak House, Middlemarch, and A Hazard of New

Fortunes." [31] As a modernist, Dos Passos was inspired by European and American

painting, notably the socially critical work of the German Expressionist Georg Grosz, and

Futurist painting, like the dynamic urban scenes of Boccioni.[32] He also admired

the films of D. W. Griffith and Serge Eisenstein, from whom he appropriated for fiction

the concept of montage.[33] His adaptations of new techniques in painting and film

included "The Camera Eye," the function of which is to give the position of the

observer; the Newsreel, which represents media voices–headlines, advertisements, popular

songs; and narrative "portraits" of historical figures like Frank Lloyd Wright,

Isadora Duncan, Henry Ford, and Frederick Taylor.

But despite its daring formal innovations, the U.S.A. trilogy has remained on

the borders of the canon, marginalized by its politics, its historical specificity, and

the attack it makes upon the American dream of power and wealth. All-American boys who,

like Charley Anderson, attempt to live out the American dream, lead dissolute, corrupt

lives and die foolish, unpleasant deaths. The most positive figure of The Big Money is

Thorstein Veblen, a "masterless man" and critic of monopoly capital, who

"suffered from … an unnatural tendency to feel with the workingclass instead of

with the profittakers" [TBM, 88]. The climactic event of the entire trilogy,

many critics agree, is the Sacco-Vanzetti case, which, along with the stock market crash,

dominates the conclusion of The Big Money. [34]

Of the four writers discussed here, Dos Passos was arguably the most sympathetic to and

knowledgeable about anarchist theory, yet despite its anti-capitalism, The Big Money was

unpopular with leftists in the 1930s. Herbert Gold attacked the novel because of its

negative representation of communists and labor organizers, and indeed these attitudes do

seem to foreshadow Dos Passos’s turn to the right during the Cold War. In his

assessment of communists, Dos Passos was not alone; Katherine Anne Porter and George

Orwell (in Homage to Catalonia ) express similar criticisms. Bakunin had long ago

predicted that communism would become authoritarian in structure. There are other

indications of Dos Passos`s future politics in The Big Money. Contemporary

readers will recognize that the novel stereotypes homosexuals, Jews, and people of color.

[35]

During the 1920s and well before The Big Money (1936), Dos Passos wrote

articles and letters in support of Sacco and Vanzetti, including a 127-page pamphlet

entitled Facing the Chair (1927). In it he describes anarchism as "the

outlaw creed" based on "the vanished brightness of the City of God"; New

England`s hostility to anarchism stems, he suggests, from its own lost hopes for the City

of God, and New Englanders therefore hate "with particular bitterness, anarchists,

votaries of the Perfect Commune on earth."[36] Dos Passos interviewed both men

in prison and published an account of the interview in a bulletin of the Sacco-Vanzetti

Defense Committee. A Harvard graduate himself, Dos Passos also wrote an "open

letter" to President Lowell of Harvard which was published in The Nation during

the trial. Like Sinclair he understood Harvard`s role in legitimating the trial and

execution, the importance of social class to the whole affair, and the larger implication

that "civilization" was being sustained by an act of barbarism:

You are allowing a Massachusetts politician to use the name of Harvard to cover his own

bias and to whitewash all the dirty business …The part into which you have forced

Harvard University will make many a man ashamed of being one of its graduates…Your loose

use of the words "socialistic" and "communistic" prove that you are

ignorant or careless of the differences in mentality involved in partisanship in the

various schools of revolutionary thought. This is a matter of life and death, not only for

Sacco and Vanzetti but for the civilization that Harvard University is supposed to

represent .. It is inconceivable that intelligent reading men can be ignorant in this

day of the outlines of anarchist philosophy… It is upon men of your class and

position that will rest the inevitable decision as to whether the coming struggle for the

reorganization of society shall be bloodless and fertile or inconceivably bloody and

destructive… As a Harvard man I want to protest most solemnly against your smirching the

university of which you are an officer [italics added] [37]

Dos Passos`s involvement in the case had multiple origins. Like Sacco and Vanzetti, Dos

Passos had been opposed to American participation in World War I. Of Portuguese descent

and cosmopolitan background, one of his biographers points out, he was roused by

anti-Italian sentiment. [38] His visits to Spain introduced him to anarchist

thought, which he admired and which influenced him perhaps the rest of his life. [39]

There are anarchist characters, and evidence of anarchist sympathies, in other Dos Passos

novels.

The Camera Eye sections of The Big Money give voice to the individual

consciousness represented in more mainstream modernist novels like The Sound and the

Fury and Mrs. Dalloway.[40] They read like prose poems–unpunctuated,

but with spaces for line breaks. Like the lack of punctuation, the unhyphenated

combinations of words suggest the influence of James Joyce. Camera Eyes (49) and (50)

focus exclusively on Sacco and Vanzetti. Camera Eye (49) compares the earlier English

immigrants–whom the Camera Eye calls "the roundheads the sackers of castles the

kingkillers haters of oppression"–who settled Massachusetts Bay with the immigrant

Italians who live there in the 1920s. The Camera Eye moves among them, asks questions (

"you ask them") and articulates their own questions and fears:

in scared voices they ask Why won`t they believe? We knew him We seen him every day why

won`t they believe that day we buy the eels. [41]

The reference is to the court`s failure to believe Italian witnesses, particularly when

they provided alibis for Vanzetti on the day of the robbery. For Dos Passos, there is a

bitter irony in this opposition between the descendents of immigrants fleeing oppression

and new immigrants fleeing oppression, an irony that further suggests the betrayal of

American ideals. Only one of the new immigrants isn`t scared, a boy whom Vanzetti used to

help with his homework, a boy who "wants to get ahead … wants to go to Boston

University" (TBM, 391). The desire for upward mobility persists. The

speaker/seer of the Camera Eye thinks about all this on his way home:

…make them feel who are your oppressors America

rebuild the ruined words worn slimy in the mouths of lawyers

district-attorneys collegepresidents Judges without the old words the immigrant haters of

oppression brought to Plymouth how can you know who are your betrayers America

or that this fishpeddler you have in Charlestown Jail is one of your

founders Massachusetts? (TBM, 391).

Again Dos Passos draws attention to the contradictions exposed by the case: Vanzetti

the anarchist is synonymous with New England`s lost spirit of rebellion, its forgotten

desires for moral self-direction, a climate of tolerance, and freedom from unjust

authority.

Mary French, the character in The Big Money who becomes involved in the

protests againt the trial, is, like Sinclair`s Cornelia and Betty, a woman from the upper

classes who has become sympathetic to workers` causes. After several failed relationships

with male comrades, Mary French is, like Dos Passos, arrested for picketing; she visits

Sacco and Vanzetti in Dedham jail and decides optimistically, "when the case was won,

she`d write a novel about Boston" (TBM, 403). Her comrades assign her

to influence newspaper coverage of the trial, but the journalists are cynical. When she

exclaims to one, "If the State of Massachusetts can kill those two innocent men in

the face of the protest of the whole world, it`ll mean there never will be any justice in

America ever again" (TBM, 404), he responds by blaming the "common

people" and refuses to become involved. In both Sinclair`s and Dos Passos`s novels, a

woman seemingly takes the place of a male author. This is perhaps to avoid the implicit

and gendered sentimentality in any human being`s sympathy for another, but the female

character could also be expressive of a consciously feminist stance. If, as Eileen Sypher

suggests, James and Conrad, in order "to contain the threat of anarchism find this

concept of the new woman readily available to collect their terror of radical social

change," [42] Sinclair and Dos Passos invent positive women characters, New Women,

who successfully take the the traditional emotional responsiveness of women into a new

realm, that of political engagement. Robert Butler contrasts Mary French`s life with those

of many in the U.S.A. portraits: "apparently powerful people are brought to

ruin while seemingly weak people are endowed with dignity and possibility." [43]

As Barbara Foley points out, however, Mary French "seems motivated as much by

sexual hunger and ego insecurity as by political commitment." [44] Sinclair is

ultimately more persuasive as a feminist than is Dos Passos.

Newsreel LXVI announces the executions in the public sphere; Camera Eye (50) elaborates

from the private sphere. The newsreel intersperses lines of "The International"

with newspaper headlines that proclaim Sacco and Vanzetti must die. The Camera Eye

describes the reaction of the Defense Committee in Salem Street: "there is nothing

left to do … we are beaten … our work is over." It rises to a denunciation of the

wealthy and powerful who control all institutions and whose existence belies American

democracy:

America our nation has been beaten by strangers who have turned our language inside out

who have taken the clean words our fathers spoke and made them slimy and foul

their hired men sit on the judge`s bench they sit back with their feet on the tables

under the dome of the State House they are ignorant of our beliefs they have the dollars

the guns the armed forces the powerplants

they have built the electricchair and hired the executioner to throw the switch

all right we are two nations

. . .

but do they know the old words of the immigrants are being renewed in blood

and agony tonight do they know the old American speech of the haters of oppression is

new tonight in the mouth of an old woman from Pittsburgh of a husky boilermaker from

Frisco who hopped freights clear from the Coast to come here …

the men in the deathhouse made the old words new before they died. [TBM,

413, italics added]

The redemptive power of the executions lies most crucially for Dos Passos in this

renewal of American rhetoric and the great awakening of social conscience, a renewal made

manifest in the responses of working-class Americans like the old woman and the

boilermaker as well as in the activism and texts of American writers. [45]

Like Millay and Porter, Dos Passos reacted to the executions with bitter

disappointment. At the conclusion of Camera Eye 50, which incorporates a section of

Vanzetti`s famous, touching speech, Dos Passos writes, "we stand defeated

America." But despite this sense of defeat and the recognition that, in Disraeli`s

words, we are "two nations" of rich and poor, immigrants and Brahmins, men and

women, Dos Passos sees some grounds for hope: America and the language of democracy have

been renewed by the steadfastness of Sacco and Vanzetti–who never recanted in seven years

of imprisonment–and by the dedication of those who supported them, some of whom, like Dos

Passos and Dorothy Parker, were soon to travel to Spain to witness the civil war in which

anarchists would play a prominent role. In yet another sense, then, what William Godwin

called punishment as "example" does not work. Just as the Haymarket trial and

executions inspired the anarchist activity of Emma Goldman, so did the Sacco-Vanzetti

case, as Vanzetti had predicted, act as "propaganda by the deed," radicalizing

many writers and intellectuals who would demonstrate their new political sympathies in the

decade of the Great Depression. The trial and executions did not so much inspire anarchist

beliefs in these writers as draw their attention to the inequities of wealth and power and

arouse in them more sympathy for, or understanding of, the struggles of immigrants and

workers.

In the very last pages of the novel, Dos Passos constructs a deliberately ironic

contrast to the outcome of the Sacco-Vanzetti trial. A stockbroker named Samuel Insull is

accused of defrauding thousands of investors of their life savings. Unlike Judge Thatcher,

Insull`s judge is "not unfriendly" and unlike Vanzetti, Insull defends himself

with platitudes: "Old Samuel Insull rambled amiably on the stand, told his lifestory:

from officeboy to powermagnate, his struggle to make good, his love for his home and the

kiddies" (TBM, 469). While the anarchists are opposed by the governor of

Massachusetts and the president of Harvard, Insull is supported by the business elite of

Chicago, who even testify on his behalf. He himself explains, weeping, that his

ten-million dollar theft was "an honest error"–and is acquitted. The villains

of The Big Money, as its title suggests, are successful Ragged Dicks [46] like

Insull, who have made Faustian bargains and betrayed the founding American dream of

liberty and equality.

Dos Passos does not, however, recognize that there were always contradictions and

betrayals in American history and ideology–that the originary purity he longs for never

existed and that he idealizes the first generations of European immigrants. This blind

spot in his critique is predictive of his later politics. His representation of the

Puritans as kindred spirits to the Italian anarchists is highly problematic, since

Puritans and anarchists took quite different positions in regard to the state, law,

punishment, and religion. [47]

The importance of the Sacco-Vanzetti case is literary, as well as political and

historical. It exposes the limits of American canon formation—the literary texts

selected for study as representative of particular social eras. Literary critics have

characterized American modernism as conservative or reactionary; they have written about

Fitzgerald rather than Sinclair, Hemingway rather than Dos Passos, Eliot rather than

Millay. The Sacco-Vanzetti case shows that notable American writers of the 1920s and 1930s

were capable of sympathizing with, writing about, and demonstrating on behalf of adherents

of a radical left politics; they were even capable of understanding the ideas of these

radicals in relation to the founding ideas of the United States.

"For a time it seemed that Sacco and Vanzetti would be forgotten," wrote

Malcolm Cowley afterwards. "Yet the effects of the case continued to operate, in a

subterranean way, and after a few years they would once more appear on the surface .. The

intelligentsia was going left; …it was discussing the need for a new American

Revolution." [48] The trial and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, according to

such contemporary accounts, restored the sense of ongoing revolution as definitive of modern

American literature as well as of the American Renaissance. The Americanist Sacvan

Bercovitch, who was named after the two anarchists,

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