Cold Warriors: Manliness on Trial in the Rhetoric of the West returns to familiar cultural forces—the West, anticommunism, and manliness—to show how they combined to suppress dissent and dominate the unruliness of literature in the name of a national identity after World War II. Few realize how much the domination of a “white male” American literary canon was a product not of long history, but of the Cold War. Suzanne Clark describes here how the Cold War excluded women writers on several levels, together with others—African American, Native American, poor, men as well as women—who were ignored in the struggle over white male identity.
Clark first shows how defining national/individual/American identity in the Cold War involved a brand new configuration of cultural history. At the same time, it called upon the nostalgia for the old discourses of the West (the national manliness asserted by Theodore Roosevelt) to claim that there was and always had been only one real American identity.
By subverting the claims of a national identity, Clark finds, many male writers risked falling outside the boundaries not only of public rhetoric but also of the literary world: men as different from one another as the determinedly masculine Ernest Hemingway and the antiheroic storyteller of the everyday, Bernard Malamud. Equally vocal and contentious, Cold War women writers were unwilling to be silenced, as Clark demonstrates in her discussion of the work of Mari Sandoz and Ursula Le Guin.
The book concludes with a discussion of how the silencing of gender, race, and class in Cold War writing maintained its discipline until the eruptions of the sixties. By questioning the identity politics of manliness in the Cold War context of persecution and trial, Clark finds that the involvement of men in identity politics set the stage for our subsequent cultural history.