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Unread July 2nd, 2010, 12:55 PM
James Brody James Brody is offline
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Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: Philadelphia area
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Talking It Can't Happen Here

“That idiot has written a masterpiece.” H.L. Mencken after meeting Sinclair Lewis and later commenting on Main Street.

Intimidated by Main Street’s thickness, I found It Can’t Happen Here, a few inches away. It was published in 1935 and centered on one small town editor in Vermont – Doremus Jessup – and a government takeover by a noisy clone of Huey Long, Berzelius Windrip, who united the rabble by speaking nonsense in cadence. This was a time in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s when middle America saw “commies,” Jews, and fascists in very basement or classroom and behind every beard. And middle Americans, blaming their failures on being cheated, rallied behind the first leader to agree with them.

Books burned quickly, firing squads shot even more quickly, and the Rotary and the Legion lost members to concentration camps and to the new “Minute Men.” (Hitler later did the same thing and paid off his promises with Jewish, French, and Polish assets.) Skeptics, noisy or silent, were kidnapped at midnight and driven away to be beaten, shot, or locked in standing water until they died; their female partners either joined the bullies or were raped and imprisoned. Some of the women died as bravely as any man and some of them lived just as bravely.
Government agencies grew, colleges closed, states were dismantled and America became a set of “zones” managed by corrupt men demanding their share of what they thought they deserved.

Doremus – 61 years old and the third generation in a family that never took orders – first resists with editorials, then is arrested, beaten, and imprisoned where he cleans toilets. He resists joining the communists and escapes from prison with money from his friends and a bribed guard.

Lewis makes traditional (liberal but nonprogressive!) New England characters and settings so well that it’s like knowing them personally. And Doremus is the individualist and counter balance to the meanness around him. He muses: “…Powers and Arthur … were weak sisters. But Douglas and Thad Stevens and Brigham, the old stallion – I wonder if we’re breeding up any paladins like those stout grouchy old devils…They had guts. Independence. Did what they wanted to and thought what they liked, and everybody could go to hell.”

Doremus fights, he loses, he wins. “And still Doremus goes on in the red sunrise, for a Doremus Jessup can never die.”

Happy 4th!
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