Roughly speaking, with the end of the Second World War, a period of reorganization and rethinking began. American literature spread spectacularly in recent years not only abroad (in Italy the critical essays relating to American literature quadrupled compared to those published in the twenty years 1928-48), but in the United States itself. The refined and fierce centers of literary criticism and American studies are, also for America, a very recent creation, while, again in these years, the cenacles that have arisen around literary magazines are strengthened, and some of the glories of a still recent past receive the laurels of international recognition: the Nobel Prize for literature was awarded to W. Faulkner in 1949, while in 1954 the same prize was awarded to E.
The mass of literary production in recent years is remarkable: alongside the products of the new and very new generation, the publications of important collections or new works by the exponents of the previous generation constitute important events and sometimes import new literary discoveries. And yet those who, also by virtue of an obvious external parallelism, tried to find in this period the signs of the extraordinary creative vitality of the post-war USA, ended up noticing the imprint of a more sophisticated and aware civilization but also less aggressively assertive, of a style that is all the more excavated and sensitive to the most hidden values of tradition as it is less inclined to the exasperated but generous formal experimentalism of the years between 1920 and 1930, of a social protest circumscribed to certain environmental or racial themes and motives, that is, overshadowed, nuanced and distorted in the most exquisite ambiguity of the poetic symbol rather than frankly aimed at the very foundations of the life of the individual and of society. In essence, a literature often pays for itself, or for itself only suffering, which the achieved historical-psychological awareness or even an excess of this awareness would seem to prevent freedom and sincerity of expression.
These and other parasociological and parapsychological explanations are found in all the systematic treatments of the most recent American literature and are certainly linked to the mythical but irrepressible image of a literary America that it would have found only in its own naivety and in its own pristine candor. the impulse, today unrepeatable, of a great creative season. But even apart from this more impressionistic than historical evaluation, it will be worth noting that the literature produced in this decade, while copious and of a high level, has undoubtedly gone through a phase that some have rightly defined “reactionary”, and that this prevailing attitude, essentially unrelated to the short American literary history, has necessarily baffled the reader and the critic.
Theater. – American theater, which has no illustrious traditions, has lost in recent years an important and authoritative voice with Eugene O’Neill (d. 1953). O’Neill saw the light, posthumously, in 1956, Long day’s journey into night, which did not bring about substantial changes to the direction and tone of the production that preceded it.
Alongside the last O’Neill we should mention two names of theatrical writers who are not great but endowed with remarkable technical and dramatic qualities. They have conquered, in this second post-war period, a prestigious place in the theater and not only in America. They are Arthur Miller (v.) And Tennessee Williams (v.), Authors of plays that trace the motifs already known in American literature between the two wars, of sex and frustration, giving them, especially Williams, a certain psychological and dramatic intensity. Of the two, Tennessee Williams appears the more aggressive and shrewd, but the more naive Miller sometimes manages to center themes of greater and wider drama (see above all The death of a salesman of 1947 and The crucible of 1953). Overall, however, not even their presence is able to redeem the greyness of today’s overseas theater scene.