Saturday, January 7, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE

Ms. Hen can't stand fascism

It Can’t Happen Here
Sinclair Lewis
Signet Classics

Ms. Hen decided to read this novel because she bought THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA, and this is a similar book. Both books are about a fictitious rise of fascism in America, but the former was written many years after it took place, while IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE was written in the time it actually did take place, the 1930s, which makes the novel more immediate, and more frightening, to think that it can’t happen here, that a fascist dictator could never happen in America, no absolutely not.

IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE was written during the time of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin. The full atrocities of World War II were not known yet, and the author hints at what could happen if a dictator took over America.

It would make sense that fascism would rise in America in the 1930s, during The Great Depression, when there was no work, and scarce amounts of food, and not enough of anything to go around. In this novel, Buzz Windrip, the presidential candidate promises to give every family 5,000 dollars a year. He also says he will take the vote away from women and “Negroes” will lose their property and status. Does this sound familiar?

The story surrounds Doremus Jessup, a newspaper owner and editor in Vermont, and how the election of Buzz Windrip affects him and the people around him. In Buzz Windrip’s America, the lower, uneducated people rise up and become the bullies of the educated revolutionaries. Doremus hates this and attempt to fight it, but in this America, anything is possible.

Ms. Hen noticed in the novel that the characters seemed to be a result of their recent history. The Great War is fresh in their memories, and Doremus, about sixty at the time, is shaped by his Victorian upbringing. A parade marches through the town, and a few straggling Civil War veterans participate. Ms. Hen didn’t realize there could have been Civil War survivors at that time, the way there are some from World War II now. But when this novel was written, there had been no World War II. History weaves its web, the past chases us, tries to catch up, and we try to outrun it, and sometimes we do, when it escapes, sometimes we don’t realize who could have been alive in 1935.

Chickens popped up in this novel several times. Ms. Hen’s favorite is when Doremus is talking to his hired hand Shad Ledue about the chickens Shad is going to buy when he gets his money from Buzz Windrip. Buzz says, “ 'I’m not going to waste my time with a couple dozen chickens. When I get five-six thousand of ‘em to make it worth my while, then I’ll show you! You bet.’ And, most patronizingly, ‘Buzz Windrip is O.K.’”

Even though Ms. Hen enjoyed this novel, and thinks it is important, she found it difficult to read. The dialogue is snappy in the way that films from the 1930s are,  with wise cracking women, and smart aleck men, which she found entertaining and different, but the density of the writing made it difficult for her to concentrate fully on the narrative. Also, she read it during the holiday season, which is distracting, and may not have been the proper time to read such a novel.

However, she thinks that this is a book that everyone should read, because what is happening now is similar to what happens in this novel. People are afraid, and they don’t know what’s going to happen. Ms. Hen is hoping that life in America never gets as bad as it does in IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE, because if it does, we are utterly doomed.

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