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Chapter 21 - Hustlers, Junkies, and Prostitutes: Nelson Algren’s White Slums

from Part IV - A City of Neighborhoods: The Great Depression, Sociology, and the Black Chicago Renaissance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 September 2021

Frederik Byrn Køhlert
Affiliation:
University of East Anglia
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Summary

To Nelson Algren, the alleys, backstreets, and pool halls of Chicago constituted a frontier in their own right, with the Polish triangle of Wabanasia, Milwaukee, and Division forming the bulwark of a neighborhood peopled by those whose pulses could only be read in terms of the class, race, and ethnicity which defined their very existence. These were the multitude of Americans who are not recognized, who are largely excluded from American society, and Algren assumed the task of ensuring their visibility. Yet Algren’s insistence that the excluded were worth our attention, that their lives were important, came at a time when American criticism was moving away from the social realism of his work. By the 1950s, the propagation of monolithic values rooted in the premise of classless consumption formed a consensus that shifted the reality of class to a point where those who continued to address it were regarded at best as curiosities. Like the subject of his fiction, then, Algren’s work was excluded, moved to the periphery, as this important author fell victim to the myths of Cold War homogeneity.

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Chicago
A Literary History
, pp. 295 - 308
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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