Postwar American Literature

After the devastation of World War II, American literature underwent a dramatic transformation.  The war's impact was profound, leading to a sense of disillusionment and a search for new meaning in a changed world. This period, often referred to as Postwar American Literature, saw the emergence of diverse literary voices and styles that reflected the anxieties and hopes of a nation grappling with its past and future.

One of the most significant movements of this era was the Beat Generation. These writers, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, rebelled against traditional values and sought personal liberation through nonconformity, experimentation, and spiritual exploration. Their works, like Kerouac's On the Road, celebrated spontaneity and a quest for authentic experience.

Postwar literature also saw the rise of Southern Gothic writers like Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner. They delved into the dark underbelly of Southern society, exploring themes of racism, violence, and the grotesque. Their stories often featured eccentric characters and macabre situations, revealing the hidden truths and moral complexities of the South.

Another influential trend was the emergence of Jewish American writers like Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud. Their novels explored the immigrant experience, the search for identity, and the challenges of assimilating into American culture. These works offered a unique perspective on the American Dream and the struggles faced by those on the margins of society.

Postwar American literature also saw a growing interest in exploring the experiences of women and minorities. Writers like Sylvia Plath and Toni Morrison gave voice to marginalised groups, challenging traditional gender roles and exposing the racial injustices that persisted in American society. Their works sparked important conversations about equality and representation.

Postwar American Literature was a period of immense creativity and diversity. It reflected a nation in transition, grappling with the aftermath of war, social change, and the ongoing struggle for identity and belonging. The writers of this era challenged conventions, pushed boundaries, and captured the complexities of the human experience in a rapidly changing world.

"Cathedral" - Raymond Carver

"Cathedral," a short story by Raymond Carver, tells the tale of an unnamed narrator who is uncomfortable with the upcoming visit of his wife's blind friend, Robert. The narrator is a man of limited experiences and narrow views, while Robert is a man who has lived a rich life despite his blindness.

The story unfolds over the course of an evening, during which the narrator and Robert share drinks, conversation, and a joint. Initially, the narrator struggles to connect with Robert due to his own prejudices and discomfort with disability. However, as the night progresses, a surprising connection forms between the two men.

The turning point comes when Robert asks the narrator to describe a cathedral on television. Unable to put the complex structure into words, the narrator suggests they draw it together. With Robert's hand on top of the narrator's, they create a rough outline of a cathedral. This act of shared creation opens the narrator's eyes, both figuratively and literally, to a deeper understanding of human connection and the power of empathy.

"Cathedral" is a story about the breakdown of barriers and the transformative power of human interaction. It challenges the reader to look beyond appearances and assumptions, and to embrace the unexpected connections that life has to offer. The cathedral itself serves as a symbol of spiritual connection and shared experience, highlighting the importance of opening oneself up to new perspectives and ways of seeing the world.

"Cathedral" (page 228)

Source: Washington State University (PDF) 

“'Close your eyes now,' the blind man said to me. I did it. I closed them just like he said.

'Are they closed?' he said. 'Don't fudge.'

'They're closed,' I said.

'Keep them that way,' he said. He said, 'Don't stop now. Draw.'

So we kept on with it. His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now.

Then he said, 'I think that's it. I think you got it,' he said. 'Take a look. What do you think?'

But I had my eyes closed. I thought I'd keep them that way for a little longer. I thought it was something I ought to do.

'Well?" he said. 'Are you looking?'

My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn't feel like I was inside anything.

'It's really something,' I said.”

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