Pompey’s Head and the Middle Class Hero

Pompey’s Head and the Middle Class Hero

The American residing in Europe seems always to be confronted with the perennial attempt to sum up America in a word. The word used to be gangsters or skyscrapers; today it is often McCarthyism.

This insistence on reducing the irreducible to an easily digestible quantity has changed since the war in at least one major respect. The shift in the nature of European misconceptions about the United States has been accompanied by a shift in the status of those holding them, from the working classes to the “educated” classes. After a while one begins to wish that the latter had ready access not just to Communist falsification, or to Hollywood movies, or even to Faulkner, Hemingway and Dashiell Hammett, but to some of the popular novels now being digested by their American opposites. The novelist may attempt to encompass only a small and perhaps “unrepresentative” fragment of the American scene, but still it is to him that one turns for news of what America is about, rather than to the special pleaders who parrot ghost-written speeches out of Washington, or the polemicists who preach to the peace congresses, with one eye over their shoulder, the sermon of an infected America.

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