JASON VREDENBURG Upton Sinclair was not so much a novelist, George Bernard Shaw once suggested, as he was a social historian, and his novel Oil! (1927) is an excellent case in point. The novel takes as its central focus the booming California oil industry in the years before, during, and after World War I, as seen and experienced by independent oilman J. Arnold Ross and his idealistic yet indecisive son Bunny. But the novel's scope extends far beyond the crowded derricks of Signal Hill: Sinclair explores regional, national, and international developments from the emergence of the Hollywood film industry to the corruption of the Harding administration to the Bolshevik Revolution, and sketches ideological debates about U.S. involvement in World War I and the conflict on the American Left between socialism and communism. He offers critiques of American institutions including the press, broadcast evangelism, and the university. It is, in the words of Lawrence Clark Powell, "the largest scale of all California novels."1 Despite this capacious depth of field, however, Sinclair's history of earlyindustrial California may initially seem rather quiet on the matter of the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910, shortly before Oil! opens; produced a new constitution
American Literary Realism – University of Illinois Press
Published: Apr 20, 2016
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