Sweeper: Sinclair Lewis and Historical Reading

This week we discusses the rise of fascism in the United States.  Writing in 1935, we have to keep in mind that Sinclair Lewis does not have all the information we have.  He has no knowledge of the Second World War, the Cold War, or the contemporary wave of populism.  During the time of his writing, the idea that a character like Buzz Windrip would be able to take over the government in a similar manner to that of Hitler seemed to be a very real possibility to him.  We can see this clearly through the blatant parallels between Huey Long and Buzz Windrip.  Long was an American Democrat and governor of Louisiana during the time of Lewis’ writing.  Long was known for his populist rhetoric and Lewis used this to create “It Can’t Happen Here” not only as a warning of the potential of populism, but also as a political attack ad against a potential presidential candidate he clearly did not like.  In the novel, Buzz Windrip has a meteoric rise to power, establishing the Minute Men to quell dissent and abolished congress in order to centralize his power.  This was Lewis’ idea of how American fascism might look but also a warning to readers of the time of what a potential run by Huey Long would look like.  In conclusion, while we read the works of Lewis, and other historical texts and apply it to separate historical events, as well as our contemporary world, it is important to keep in mind that the authors of these books display biases and do not automatically have correct ideas.  Lewis displays a world in which a populist leader becomes a dictator and Americans are eventually forced to revolt against him.  Just because he wrote it in his book, does not mean that is an eventuality of populism.

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