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February 23rd, 2009
04:39 PM ET

Will this crisis produce a 'Gatsby'?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/23/art.fed.meeting.jpg]
Sean McCann
Wall Street Journal


In the fall of 1933, Sherwood Anderson left his home in New York City and set out on a series of journeys that would take him across large sections of the American South and Midwest. He was engaged in a project shared by many of his fellow writers - including James Agee, Edmund Wilson, John Dos Passos, and Louis Adamic - all of whom responded to the Great Depression by traveling the nation's back roads and hinterlands hoping to discover how economic disaster had affected the common people. Like many of his peers, Anderson had anticipated anger and radicalism among the poor and unemployed. Instead, he discovered a people stunned by the collapse of their most cherished beliefs. "Puzzled America," the title of the book he composed out of his journeys, said it all.

In particular, Anderson found the people he met to be imprisoned by what he called the "American theory of life" - a celebration of personal ambition that now seemed cruelly inappropriate. "We Americans have all been taught from childhood," Anderson wrote, "that it is a sort of moral obligation for each of us to rise, to get up in the world." In the crisis of the Depression, however, that belief appeared absurd. The United States now confronted what Anderson called "a crisis of belief."

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Filed under: Economy • President Barack Obama
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Salas

    Sherwood had a nice ambition by searching out for the reaction of his fellow country during such moments...It would be nice to see someone also doing same this current recession,maybe yes maybe as it was during and after the great depression,america will reclaim her rightful place in history,but until then i will watch as this event plays out.,,,,

    February 24, 2009 at 9:41 am |
  2. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    Most of us are raised to rise above in the world, however, experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, and I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the "rich on the poor".

    February 24, 2009 at 9:08 am |
  3. Jacob Mammen

    The problem with Tim Gaither is he do not have the credability to come and forward and speak with authority about finance.The main reason is we all know his tax issue.

    February 23, 2009 at 10:43 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    Really good article – I think that puzzlement is there today as well – what has happened to us? And for us average Joes it seemed like it happened overnight. I feel like Wily Coyote in the road runner cartoons – holding a stick of dynamite (the economy) in my hands which has exploded and Wiley has this singed puzzled look on his face because he doesn't understand what happened.......

    February 23, 2009 at 9:50 pm |
  5. Natalie

    Thanks for such an interesting article.

    February 23, 2009 at 7:52 pm |
  6. Isabel, Brazil

    Sherwood Anderson, very interesting life story of this writer.

    The most intriguing in this story is how life is cyclical and things can be repeated.

    PS.
    Researching Sherwood Anderson, I reconnected your name associated with William Faulkner (The Wishing Tree) and I back to my childhood. Very nice this' journey 'that the blog and the internet provide.

    February 23, 2009 at 7:50 pm |
  7. Yvonne Andrews

    If you're wondering if the crisis will produce a novel like Gatsby - possibly. But it is the Gatsbys and the Buchannans who have created the crisis - those who believe that superficiality, materialism, wealth bring happiness and/or love. Fitzgerald's Tom and Daisy Buchannan went through life with careless disregard of others. Does that sound familiar today?

    February 23, 2009 at 6:59 pm |