Contemporary Fiction


Historical context

  • Media saturated culture

  • People observe life as media presents it rather than experiencing life directly

  • Insistence that values are not permanent but only "local" or "historical"

  • Media culture interprets values

  • Post WWII prosperity

  • People now in a new century, a new millennium

  • Social protest


  • Lines of reality blurred; mix of fantasy and nonfiction

  • No heroes/anti-heroes

  • Concern with individual in isolation

  • Detached, unemotional, usually humorless

  • Emergence of ethnic and women writers

Major Writers

  • Beat writers (pre-hippie, highly intellectual, anti-tradition)

  • Countered the hidden despair of the 50's with wildly exuberant language/behavior

  • Confessional poets: Used anguish of own lives to explore America's hidden despair

  • J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, symbol for a generation of disaffected youth

  • Flannery O'Conner (Southern Gothic)

  • James Thurber (America's most popular humorist in 30's and 40's)

  • Multicultural Literature
    Jewish American literature (50's and 60's)
    African American literature (black militancy/civil rights movement in 50's 60's) Native American Latino-American literature
    Asian-American literature

  • New Frontiers
    John Updike and Truman Capote

John Updike

Visit Mrs. Steller's Updike Gallery.

"John Updike grew up in the small Pennsylvania town of Shillington, near Reading. He graduated from Harvard in 1954, then spent a year in England studying art. After his return to the United States, he worked on the staff of The New Yorker, where many of his short stories have appeared...Updike's fiction touches upon some basic issues of life in modern times: faith and disbelief, and the uprooting and uncertaninty of human relationships. Updike has said that a writer should capture the 'complexity and ambiguity of life,' and his stories, especially, show his skill at revealing what he terms 'the essential strangeness I feel in the mundane.' His work has often been pessimistic in outlook; its strength lies in the sharp insight he brings to the frustrations he so often depicts" (Adventures in American Literature 602).

Read "The Lucid Eye in Silver Town." Answer the following questions:

Updike's story is concerned with complex emotional relationships and with a "lucid eye," an eye that presumably sees these relationships clearly. In the first paragraph, what details suggest that Jay feels he sees things clearly? What details suggest that his father is motivated by emotional impulse?

Updike suggests that Jay may be prematurely proud of his sharpness of vision when the boy is partially blinded by getting something in his eye. Which character has the "lucid eye"? Explain in detail.

Truman Capote

Visit Harper Lee and Truman Capote at and fill-in-the-blanks.

"In small town life and in rural life you know your neighbors. Not only do you know everything about your neighbors, but you know everything about them from the time they came to the country." [Harper Lee, quoted in Mockingbird, A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields.]
"Harper Lee lived next door to the cousins Truman Capote came to stay with in her small country town. The Monroeville playmates became, arguably, America's most famous pair of _______________________. The films Capote and Infamous have established them as one of the country's most complex pairings of collaborative investigators who sought the true story behind the brutal Kansas slayings of Capote's In Cold Blood."

"The friendship began on South Alabama Avenue where Harper was raised by her father A.C. Lee, a local attorney who owned the town's newspaper The Monroe Journal. Mr. Lee wrote influential editorials for the Journal and practiced law in the 1903 Courthouse. Capote insisted that he was the model for Dill, Scout's playmate in Mockingbird. In a letter to his friends Alvin and Marie Dewey of August 12, 1960, the author of Breakfast at Tiffany's and Other Voices, Other Rooms wrote: Nelle's book is high on the best-seller list; she has gone home to Monroeville for a month. And yes, my dear, I am Dill."

"Capote was no stranger to best-seller lists either. Monroeville gave him poignant material. Writing ___________________ in 1972, Capote said, 'As a child, I lived until I was ten or so with an elderly spinster relative in a rural, remote part of Alabama. Miss Sook Faulk. She herself was not more than twelve years old mentally, which is what accounted for her purity, timidity, her strange, unexpected wisdom.' He wrote two stories about Sook:_______________and ____________________________. A historical marker in Monroeville now serves as a guidepost for visitors seeking the Faulk house: a plot of land with the remains of a brick foundation near the historic courthouse square."

Read "The Thanksgiving Visitor" or "A Christmas Memory."