"Fear ruled them all": Kenneth Fearing's literature of corporate conspiracy

Andrew Richard Anderson, Purdue University


Often seen as a minor figure of the failed proletarian movement of the 1930's, Kenneth Fearing (1902-1961) devoted his career to warning his readers against the dangers of modern American corporate life: the sacrifices of individualism and creative, satisfying work; the loss of faith and trust for others at work; the sacrifices of family love and security at home. These losses are accomplished through corporate control of language and mass media communication systems symbolized in Fearing's work by huge electronic, publishing, advertising, and public relations corporations. Fearing's work seeks to reaffirm humanism and individualism through the often frightening images of their opposites--the lives of men and women who have lost these precious gifts to the illusory promises of corporate success. Fearing's corporate conspiracy literature draws from several major historical, political, aesthetic, and literary traditions. His work contains the graphic realism and anti-business violence of naturalism and the muckrakers' call for reform. His portraits of the "executive type" draw upon the historical and literary figure of the unfulfilled businessman. His compassion for individualism and artistic freedom is an expression of the independent radicalism and Marxist humanism of the proletarian movement of the thirties. The atmosphere of crisis that dominates his work comes from the suspense and political intrigue of the thriller genre. Finally, Fearing's belief in the close, affective relationship between a writer and his readers places his work in the tradition of reader response theory. Kenneth Fearing never abandoned his attempts to warn us against the dangers of corporate conspiracy. His deep compassion and concern for us never weakened: even in the darker pessimism of the anti-McCarthyism that dominated his later work, his voice of dissent against corporate conspiracy was never silenced. This study seeks to reclaim for Kenneth Fearing's life and work their proper place in the history of American literary radicalism.




Oreovicz, Purdue University.

Subject Area

American literature|American studies|American history

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