Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression

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Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression

Author: Morris Dickstein
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 598
Cover Price: $ 29.95

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From Agee to Astaire, Steinbeck to Ellington, the creative energies of the Depression against a backdrop of poverty and economic disaster. In this timely and long-awaited cultural history of the 1930s, Morris Dickstein, whom Norman Mailer called “one of our best and most distinguished critics of American literature,” explores the anxiety and hope, the despair and surprising optimism of distressed Americans at a time of dire economic dislocation. Bringing together a staggering range of materials—from epic Dust Bowl migrations and sharecropper photographs to zany screwball comedies, wildly popular swing bands, and streamlined Deco designs—this eloquent work highlights the pivotal role of culture and government intervention in hard times.

Exploding the myth that Depression culture was merely escapist, it concentrates instead on the dynamic energy and insight the arts could provide and the enormous lift they gave to the nation’s morale. Dancing in the Dark shows how our worst economic crisis, as it eroded American individualism and punctured the American dream, produced some of the greatest writing, photography, and mass entertainment ever seen in this country.

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Background Information

The American economy felt into a slump after the Crash of 1929 and continued at low levesl throughout the next decade. Duke Ellington was a famous jazz trumpeter who became an international ambassador for American culture. Norman Mailer was one of the generation of American writers who emerged from World War II.