Albert Maltz (1908-1985)
Contributing Editor: Gabriel Miller
Classroom Issues and Strategies
It is useful for the students to have some historical/social background, particularly concerning the depression, the rise of radicalism, and its various configurations (why so many writers and intellectuals were attracted to Marxism, socialism, etc.). Many of Maltz's novels are also grounded in historical events (The Underground Stream, The Cross and the Arrow, and A Tale of One January). You might provide background lectures and readings on the history of the thirties ("The Happiest Man on Earth"). For other Maltz pieces, a knowledge of radicalism, the radical literary wars, HUAC and the blacklist would be very helpful. Concerning HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee), many students will be interested in the blacklist, fronts, and the Hollywood Ten (Maltz was part of this group).
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
1. The depression and displacement and disenfranchisement of the individual.
2. The totalitarian environment and the individual.
3. The ideal of the democratic individual.
4. The individual alone in nature and with the self.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
Discuss the "proletarian novel," the relationship of art and politics, the conventions of realism. Questions of what constitutes a political or radical novel would also be stimulating and useful.
The audience at least in the beginning was the "initiated": radicals who were sympathetic to Maltz's ideas. However, Maltz was always reaching out to a wider audience and would come to reject the restraints of didactic art.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
More well-known writers whose work can be read along with Maltz are Richard Wright, Native Son (emphasis on the emerging radical consciousness, questions of class); John Steinbeck; Grapes of Wrath (Americans on the road, communal versus individual) and In Dubious Battle (political novel); James Farrell, the Studs Lonigan trilogy (realism, environment, politics); also Jack London and some of Whitman's poems, particularly those emphasizing the ideal of the democratic man.
Questions for Reading and Discussion/Approaches to Writing
1. I have never taught Maltz but I think questions regarding the effectiveness of presenting character and the characters' relationship to the overriding issues of the story would be productive.
2. Discuss how successfully Maltz integrates didactic aims with "art." Is Maltz's best work at odds with its didactic intent? How does Maltz's work effectively convey the central issues of his time?
Maltz's essays in The Citizen Writer; his New Masses essay "What Shall We Ask of Writers?" (1946) in which he takes the notion of didactic art to task and for which he was harshly criticized.