"Violent and sentimental by turns": the gendered discourses of mike gold. (2024)

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Proletarian writer Michael Gold famously adopts a pose ofexaggerated virility in his theoretical writing as a defense againstcharges of the effeminacy that was associated with intellectuals, withmass culture, and with Jewish men. But the portraits Gold draws in hisautobiographical novel, Jews Without Money., suggest a more complexgendered and ethnic rhetoric through which he idealizes feminized,sentimental domesticity as a counterpoint to gangsterism, the myth ofthe wild west, and the drive for an authentic, manly American identity.By yoking together the registers of the sentimental and the violent inhis writing, Gold seeks not only to move his readers emotionally, butalso to goad them toward revolutionary action. This motivational missionjustifies Gold's writing as valuable labor rather than theintellectual parasitism and aesthetic prostitution he consistentlycondemns. The first of the above epigraphs, from a Janutary 1929editorial by Michael Gold in the leftist journal The New Masses, hasoften been cited as evidence of the gendered inflections of Americanproletarian writing of the 1920s and 1930s. (1) Gold's editorialexemplifies both the insistently masculine imagery associated withproletarian writing (such as his wild youth's " jets")and the connection between the manly proletariat and the myth of theAmerican West (demonstrated bv I he title of the piece, "Go Left,Young Writer"). hi i lie introduction to 1Witing Red, PaulaRabinowitz explains that Gold's use of the West "suggestedthat the Left, like the West, was a wild place--brutal, rugged, andcertainly no place for a lady" (3). This connection is borne out inGold's writing, but critics have been less apt to notice thatGold's prescription calls for writing that is both violent andsentimental; whereas the first term can be read as a predictably"masculine" discourse, the latter--the sentimental--is a formlong dismissed as falling within the purview of the feminine. (2)Moreover, the sentimental has often been vilified as lacking the"authenticity" central to the proletarian project. For Gold,however, combining the modes of the sentimental and the violenttestifies to the authenticity and the active commitment of the writer.Unlike the "minor affects," such as irritation and envy, whichSianne Ngai has associated with "obstructed" or"suspended" agency, the aggressive extremes of rhetoricalviolence and sentiment mobilized by Gold project a writer who both takesaction and inspires others to act (Ngai, 2-3). His efforts excitesympathy to inspire revolutionary change. By yoking together theregisters of the violent and the sentimental, Gold contends that writingconstitutes valuable labor rather than the intellectual parasitism andaesthetic prostitution he condemns.

Like his theoretical writing. Gold's autobiographical novel,Jews Without Money, draws on the myth of the West and depicts images ofmasculine virility. At the same time, however--as suggested by myepigraphs--the novel seems to privilege "female realism" over"foolish male dreams" by opposing proletarian women who arestrong, wise, communally minded and distrustful of capitalism toindividualistic, tin realistic men, especially the narrator'scapitalist. father. This article aims first to examine the"masculine" aspects of Gold's theoretical writing, andthen to identify how and why those terms are subverted in Jews WithoutAloney, where a contrast is established not between virile men andineffectual women, but rather between realistic female adults andchildlike dreamers who are often male. Attending to the tension betweenthe violent and the sentimental that. energizes Gold's writing--andwhich he constructs as a tension between masculine and feminineregisters--reveals the context through which he sought to validate hisown work as productive labor. In his masculinist critical rhetoric aswell as his female-centered autobiographical writing, Gold endorses"real" labor and "authentic" feeling and opposesthem to the false, gilded, and prostituted products of mass culture aswell as to ineffectual "high" art. Seeking to project bothauthenticity and agency, Gold develops an aesthetic of extremity,"violent and sentimental by turns."


"Simply put," according to Alan Wald, "no singleindividual contributed more [than Gold] to forging the tradition ofproletarian literature as a genre in the United .States after the 1920s.All who came after Gold would stand on the shoulders of his legacy"(Exiles, 39). Born Itzok Granich in 1893 on New York's Lower EastSide to Jewish parents who had emigrated from Romania and Hungary, MikeGold knew firsthand the deprivation and exploitation he describes injews Without Money. When he was twelve, his. father, who made and soldsuspenders, became seriously ill and Mike quit school to work at a gasmantle factory (Wald, Exiles, 46). As a result, Gold was mostlyself-educated, though he later enrolled in journalism courses at NewYork University and spent a few months as a "special student"at Harvard, before emotional and financial strains ended his formaleducation. He first encountered radical politics at a rally in UnionSquare in 1914. Shortly thereafter he submitted a poem to The Masses andbegan his career writing for the leftist press, including The Masses,The Liberator (to which Max Eastman appointed him coeditor with ClaudeMcKay), The New Masses (of which he was a founding editor and namededitor-in-chief in 1928), and The Daily Worker (the official publicationof the Communist Party). He was also an enthusiastic playwright, thoughreception of his plays was mixed and he did not succeed in mobilizing aworking class audience as he had hoped (Wald, Exiles, 53). Earlyepisodes of Gold's autobiographical fiction appeared in The NewMasses and in American Mercury and were revised into Jews Without Money,which was acclaimed when it came out in 1930, just after the stockmarket crash. Widely recognized as "America's most famousliterary communist," Gold was also described as"provocative," "obstreperous,""obnoxious," and "a miscreant," a set of perceptionshe seems to have encouraged through a confrontational prose style and anunkempt and off-putting personal style (Rubin, 12-13). Gold is known formaintaining both his style and his pro-Soviet Communist politicalconvictions throughout. his life, even after many other leftistactivists rejected Stalin's implementation of Marxist ideology. AsMorris Dickstein puts it, Gold "came to the party early and stayedlate" (19). He continued writing party-line columns but neverpublished another novel after Jews Without Money. In his culturalhistory of the 1930s, Dickstein writes that Gold "single-handedlyShaped the agenda for the writers of the new decade" (22). By thetime of his death in 1967, however, he was impoverished, sociallyisolated, and politically discredited.

Throughout his career, Gold sustained a carefully crafted image ofAmerican masculinity as evident in the name he borrowed from a Civil Warveteran as well as in his person, which he clothed in "dirty shirtsand filthy black Stetson" (Klein, Foreigners, 243). Although, asWald explains, Gold "regarded himself 'soft' and'almost mad with the overflow of pity and sorrow the felt] for thisgoddamned mess of a world," the persona that he projected and mostperceived was one of swaggering toughness (Exiles, 40). In his essaysfor the leftist press, too--especially those he published as editor ofThe New Masses--Gold promoted an image of virile worker-writerscontrasted with the various cultural "ladies" who had "noplace" among the proletariat: the decadent, feminized, bourgeoisintellectual, on the one hand, and the depraved, infectious, and equallyfeminized producers of mass culture, on the other. In a humorous 1921dialogue--primarily an argument against formalist experimentation, whichhe derides as "arty art," Gold enumerates "twoart-philosophies in this country" and asserts that "both aredecadent and incapable of lusty, life-bringing fertilization.. Both arerotten with the syphilis of cynicism" ("Two Critics" 29,30). The first of these sterile art forms is the mass culturerepresented by publications such as the Saturday Evening Post that"feed the masses the opium of a cheap romanticism, and. . . gildthe filth in which we live" (30). The other school, Gold goes on tosay, referring to the modernists, "is in rebellion againstcommercialism, but it is decadent, too. It is the weakly-wagging tail ofpessimism" (31). The problem with such "arty-art" is thatit lacks "the loins from which can come forth the grandeur of avigorous, happy, art-loving nation" (31). In explicitly sexualizedterms, then, Gold claims that both mass culture and the avant-garde areinsufficiently virile; only the loins of the workers are"lusty" enough to generate national "vigor."

Gold's dismissal of both aesthetic approaches invokeswidespread discourses of the interwar years that feminize both theculture of the masses and the "highbrow" intellectuals. AsRabinowitz argues: "During the 1930s, class struggle in the UnitedStates was metaphorically engendered through a discourse thatre-presented class conflict through the language of sexual difference.The prevailing verbal and visual imagery reveled in an excessivelymasculine and virile proletariat poised to struggle against theeffeminate and decadent bourgeoisie" (Labor, 8). (3) In prolificeditorials and criticism, Gold traces these opposing images onto thefield of cultural production. Of course, the gendered terms were notoriginal to Gold or to proletarian writers. In his influential essay,"Mass Culture As Woman," Andreas Huyssen explains that"the political, psychological, and aesthetic discourse around theturn of the century consistently and obsessively genders mass cultureand the masses as feminine, while high culture, whether traditional ormodern, clearly remains the privileged realm of male activities"(191). Rachel Rubin identifies an unexpected similarity betweenGold's work and that of high modernists in the gendered termsthrough which they castigate feminized commercial culture (93). (4)However, at the same time that Gold and other male communists disparagethe products of mass culture, distancing their own work--said to be"by, for, and about the masses"--from the commercialentertainments that were in fact popular with the masses, (5) theysimultaneously (as Rubin acknowledges) define their work in oppositionto "arty-art," striving to avoid identification with decadent,effete "intellectuals."

Opposing the material productivity of deeds to the ineffectualityof words was a touchstone of proletarian rhetoric that put writers in anawkward position. In Labor and Desire, Paula Rabinowitz explains that"proletarianism was the antidote for the intellectual as woman,because if the literary radical wrote like a worker, for a worker, andabout a worker, he could in effect shift both class and genderinscriptions and become a (cultural) worker in the camps, mines, mills,and fields of America" (45). This effort to endow his writing withproletarian credibility undergirds much of Gold's work for theleftist press. Marcus Klein quotes The Masses editorFloyd Dell onGold's discomfort about being a professional writer: "ComradeMike ... was for some obscure reason ashamed of not being aworkingman" (79). In the opening paragraphs of "Two Critics ina Barroom," Gold establishes his proletarian credentials byidentifying himself as a bona fide worker who experiences "surprisein finding [himself] suddenly accepted as [an] intellectual andcritic": "He has not always been a critic; he has been astrike leader, a waiter, a porter, a soap-boxer, a section gangster, aroad-mender, a dishwasher, a shabby clerk, a factory hand, a newspaperreporter, a free-lover, a near-beer poet, a fool, a serious thinker. Thegraces of all these occupations still linger on his brow and may beguessed from the disreputable state of his linen" (28). ComradeMike claims the right to assert himself as a serious thinker because ofhis experience as a physical laborer while he distinguishes himself fromthe bourgeois intellectual by opposing his strong, proletarian loins tothose of the "weakly-wagging" aesthetes. (6) In his mostnotorious vilification of the effete bourgeoisie, Gold dismissed thework of Thornton Wilder as "a daydream of hom*osexual figures ingraceful gowns moving archaically among the lilies"("Wilder," 48).

Whereas Rabinowitz reads proletarianism as the "antidote forthe intellectual as woman," and Huyssen might recognize it as astand against "mass culture as woman," Rachel Rubin analyzesthe implications for Gold of the widespread image of the Jewish man as akind of woman. In Jewish Gangsters in Modern Literature, Rubin explainsGold's "decidedly obnoxious masculinism" as resultingfrom his "eagerness to distinguish his own position from that ofthe traditionally feminized intellectual as much as from the (sometimesoverlapping category of) traditionally feminized Jew" .(93). Rubinargues persuasively that, for Gold himself, who challenged the idea thatJewish men are weak or effeminate, "the problem ... is not Jewishmale intellectualism per se, but rather that thought has been separatedfrom physical labors" (91). Beyond his own concerns about the gapbetween intellectual and physical labors, however, Gold was alsoaddressing a readership long subjected to less-nuanced stereotypes ofcompromised Jewish masculinity. For example, in the notoriouslymisogynist and antisemetic Sex and Character (1903), Otto Weiningerinsistently links Jews and women as moral inferiors: "Judaism issaturated with femininity, with precisely those qualities the essence ofwhich I have shown to be in the strongest opposition to the male nature.It would not be difficult to make the case that ... the most manly Jewis more feminine than the least manly Aryan" (306).Weininger's is one of the more outrageous articulations of thisstereotype, but the connection between Jewishness and femininity waspopular and persistent, especially in the years leading up to the SecondWorld War. (7) Similarly persistent was the association linking Jews tocommercial culture, such as the products for mass distribution comingout of Hollywood (itself code for American Jewishness). Gold'smotivation to certify the virility of the proletarian writer can, then,be understood as threefold: to resist the long-standing stereotype ofthe Jew as a kind of woman, to assert his own masculinity even as hetries to speak to and for the feminized masses, and to mark his work asproductive masculine labor as opposed to decadent intellectualism.


The third motivation described above is implicated in the recurringappearance of a particular type of woman in Gold's writing: theprostitute. Making a living from the production of words rather thandeeds might be akin, from a proletarian perspective, to charging a feefor the sexual act, which helps explain Gold's frequent use of theimage of the prostitute to condemn capitalists, intellectuals, and theproducers of mass culture alike. (8) In the 1921 essay "TheAmerican Famine" we find a colorful contrast between working menand the whorish bourgeoisie: "[There are] half a million men inthis city, without friends, without women, without food and shelter,without a single one of the simple things that make Life bearable. Andthe city does not care ... the whole monstrous city moves down itsprimrose path, like a courtesan playing her trade in the very shadow ofthe cross on which a Son of Man is writhing" (22). Here the workersare men while the bourgeoisie are unambiguously the courtesans who offersex and trade but not love, progeny, or productive labor. However, Goldalso applies the metaphor to the feminized and cheapened products ofmass culture. During the early twenties, he describes the SaturdayEvening Post as being "putrid with prosperity like the bulky,diamonded duenna of a bawdy-house" ("Thoughts" 24). Inthis case, the vehicle for the distribution of mass culture is likenedto a madame, who capitalizes on the commercialization (degradation) ofthe masses. In the 1941 essay "Renegades" the bourgeoisintellectual is -figured as a "john" when Gold quotes fromGorky's "Karamora": "Thought alone, unfertilized byfeeling, plays with man like a prostitute, but is quite unable to changehim in any way" (59). If feelings fertilize thoughts, sentiment isnecessary for words to become re/productive. Gold goes on to explainthat. "-the revolution is loved by some bourgeois intellectuals asone loves a prostitute--without feeling, with caution that something maybe stolen from one, or an infection set in" (59). At the end of theessay, however, the intellectual is no longer patron, but now prostituteas Gold compares the "physical prostitution" forced upon the"lumpenproletariat" to the intellectuals' "mentalprostitution, the mercenary sale of their brains, their hearts, theirwhole being, to the highest capitalist bidder" (124-25). Havingcondemned both the unthinking lumpenproletariat and the unfeelingintellectual, Gold suggests that the communist must combine boththinking and feeling.

What is most important about the shifting image of the prostitutefor Gold is not that she accepts payment for services that"should" be offered for free, but that she speaks falsely andlacks genuine feeling. Indeed, Gold grounds his prescription for"Proletarian Realism" upon a call for"scientifically" rendered, authentic experience and honestemotion: "We are scientists; we know what a man thinks and feels.... It is this honesty alone, frank as an unspoiled child's, thatmakes proletarian realism superior to the older literary schools"(5). (9) In a 1931 essay Gold argues that "you cannot buildCommunism with masses whose emotions are still of the capitalistworld--who are superstitious, or romantic, or mystic--who have not beenpenetrated in every fiber with the emotional habits of Communism"("Toward," 12). Gold's autobiographical fiction similarlyattempts to educate readers to resist the false romantic dreams peddledby the prostitutes of mass culture, and to be "penetrate[d].," instead, with "the emotional habits of Communism."The paradoxical challenge of trying to "educate" readers into"authentic" feeling accounts for the narrative strain thatpervades Jews Without Money.


In the introduction to Left Letters, James D. Bloom asserts thatone of the aims of his book is to demonstrate how "Gold'sautobiographical writing enacts and wages the Kulturekampf that [his]manifestos, reviews, and theoretical essays advocate and promote"(11), while Barbara Foley points out that Jews Without Money was praisedin reviews for its "vigorously masculine style" (223). Yet,despite the reappearance of familiar Gold icons such as virile youngmen, tawdry prostitutes, and the alluring American West, the genderedrhetoric of Jews Without Money strikingly contradicts the appeal tomasculinity suggested in Gold's critical writing, offering insteada portrait strongly sympathetic to the women at its center. Throughoutthe linked collection of vignettes, Gold constructs an oppositionbetween his mother's "proletarian instincts,""female realism," and "universal sympathy," on theone hand, and his father's "foolish male dreams" andwrong-headed individualism on the other. Indeed, in the author'snote to the 1935 edition, Gold names his mother "the heroine"of Jews Without Money (12).

Katie Gold is described as a "work horse" who"wanted no diamond rings, no fancy dresses, nodecorations"--precisely those ornaments that mark both theprostitutes and the "typical wife of a Jewish nouveau riche"in the novel (217). Moreover, Katie "had a strong sense of reality,and felt that when one was poor, only strength could help one. But [thenarrator's] father was a romantic and dreamed of a bright, easyfuture" (157-58). Katie's "proletarian instincts"enable her to prioritize helping others, whereas Herman's delusionsof individual success lead him to attempt to capitalize on tragediesthat befall others. Communicating through "sheer sympathy"--acentral trope of the nineteenth-century sentimental novel--Katie notonly listens and consoles, but like a good proletarian, takes action:Gold pays tribute to his mother as an embodiment of sympathy that leadsto action, just as he hopes his book will do. Katie is heroic, moreover,precisely because she labors not only in the interests of her ownfamily, but for members of the whole community, even across potentiallydivisive ethnic boundaries.

 She tried to "reform" everybody, and fought people because they were "bad." She spoke her mind freely, and told every one exactly where the path of duty lay. She was always engaged in some complicated ethical brawl ... Or she was always finding people in trouble who needed her help. She helped them for clays, weeks, and months, with money, food, advice and the work of her hands. (160)

Katie is located at the center of a collective of oppressed,battered, and overworked women depicted by Gold who "drink tea andwarm themselves at [his] mother's wonderful heart." (10)Gold's sympathy for the women in his narrative is highlightedthrough the depiction of his father's cartoonish misogyny. Forexample, when Herman gloats over being promoted to the position offoreman, Katie recognizes the injustice against the previous foreman,"a sick man with a family" (213). Herman's response toKatie's concern for the foreman (similar to his dismissal of heropinion when she resists his determination to buy a house in Brooklyn)is almost humorous in its claim to patriarchal authority:"'Woman,' my father stormed, "attend to yourcooking! You are only a woman!" (213). Wald points out that in hisearlier autobiographical writing, Gold "represents his mother as asymbol of narrowness, a figure to be escaped rather than embraced"(Exiles, 56). In Jews Without Money, however, Gold recasts his mother asan icon of sympathetic "realism."

Mikey's Aunt Lena is another idealized figure in thenovel--indeed, she comes closest to articulating Gold's owntheoretical position, though she also responds to the tawdry products ofmass culture. When she becomes sick from working in a sweatshop, Lenaasks Mikey to buy her sheet music for popular sentimental songs. Thesesongs--"She's Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage" and "TheRabbi's Daughter"--are about oppressed women who arecontrolled by men and who die, miserable. Gold admits as he narratesthis episode that he should condemn such songs as the detritus ofpopular culture, calculated to numb the masses. But he recognizes thatthe songs elicit a genuine emotional reaction from both his aunt and hismother, and that in this instance, trashy popular culture expressessomething that seems real to these women: "I look back at thatmoment. I know a cynic or a Broadway clown must have written thosesongs, with tongue in cheek, maybe, for money. It is sophisticated tolaugh at such songs. But I remember my Aunt Lena, sickened by piece-workslavery in the shop, singing them in her deep voice, I remember mymother's tears" (135). Despite their "inauthentic"origins, these sentimental songs have the potential to elicit strong,authentic responses, as when Mikey's mother exclaims in response toone of them, "Al, how sad that is, how sad and beautiful. ... It isjust like life" (135). Although Gold knows he ought to condemn thegilded cultural artifacts of the whoring capitalist machine, he ends uppaying tribute to their emotive power. Aunt Lena eventually dedicatesherself to the labor movement and organizes strikes, exemplifying theprogress from affective expression to revolutionary action that Goldpromotes.

On the other hand, of all the tales of oppressed women in thenovel, the death of Mikey's sister Esther, who is run over by ahorse car -while fetching wood, is often noted as one of the mostsentimental episodes, perhaps because it elicits a sense of dangerouslyhopeless despair. The narrator acknowledges, however, his ownresponsibility in Esther's hardships. He describes attempts totease his obedient sister and confesses that she took on the work herefused to do. When Esther asks to be included in Mikey's trips andadventures her father refuses, saying "Little girls belong withtheir mammas. They must be good" (114). This reinforcement of thegendered division between being good and having adventures is implicatedin the tragic loss marked by Esther's death. The rhetoricalsignificance of the gendered binary is particularly telling in the lightof Alan Wald's revelation that Gold cid not, in fact, grow up witha sister. His parents had a daughter who died at the age of four, beforehe was born, but Gold actually grew up with two younger brothers who areexcluded from his "autobiography" and replaced by thefictional younger sister (Wald 47). Through the invention of aninnocent, hard-working, loving sister who loses her life in the ghetto,Gold establishes a tragic counterpoint to the toughened Mikey and hisdefiant "gang of little yids."

Disrupting the narrative's insistence on strictly genderedcategories, however, Esther is consistently aligned N1.1 I 11 herfather, while Mikey has more in common with his mother. On Mikey'sfifth birthday, the realists are uncomfortable in fancy clothes andresent the bourgeois tableau in which the family poses to bephotographed. Herman and Esther, however, are happily "chatter[ing]like two children" (19). Like Herman, Esther is "dreamy";she loves telling stories and believes in fairy tales. The narratortells us, "I was a year older but I felt like a man beside Esther.... I despised her weakness" (274). The dishonesty of fairy talesand happy endings is made painfully clear in another "idyllic"tableau: "On the stoop of our tenement sat two friends, my sisterEsther and nigg*r's little sister Leah. In the purple and goldenlight of sundown they were reading a fairy-tale book and eating breadand butter. Their faces were calm and satisfied" (273). The fairytales calm and satisfy the little girls, but the fairy tales lie.Innocence and beauty cannot survive in the ghetto; one of these girlswill get run over in the street while trying to help her family, and theother, nigg*r's sister, will turn to prostitution, a trap thatlures girls through fairy tales and lies: The pimps are described as"smooth story tellers. They seduced the girls the way a child ishelped to fall asleep, with tales of magic happiness" (33).Significantly, it is Harry the Pimp who brings Mikey his first book offairy tales, an opportunity to "study English" that initiatesboth Mikey and Esther, who steals the book, into the false logic of theghetto (29).

While Gold doesn't provide extensive analysis of theexploitation of workers or women in Jews Without Money, he designates asthe root of economic and social problems the "tales of magichappiness" offered to the poor in place of revolutionary socialchange. The problem with Mikey's father is that, like theprostitutes, he falls for such tales. A gifted storyteller himself, with"a streak of naive genius" (82), Herman suffers because hetrusts stories and thus is duped by his cousin Sam Kravitz, by BaruchGoldfarb, and by Zechariah Cohen, each of whom promise him prosperitywith different versions of the story of the Golden Bear--"theeternal fable of the man to whom the good things of life come as if bymagic"--but who use him, instead, to make more money for themselves(86). While the fat, bleached, and glittering wife of Zechariah Cohen iscompared to "some vulgar, pretentious prostitute," as she lieson a sofa prostrate from overeating, her husband is also engaging in akind of prostitution as he seduces Herman into giving half his weeklywages toward buying a house in Brooklyn that he will never attain.

The relations among the pimps, prostitutes, johns, young girls, andother members of the tenement community depicted in Jews Without Moneyare crucial to the novel's emotional logic and rhetorical force.Far from the condemnation of metaphorical whor*s expressed inGold's criticism, the prostitutes who crowd--and, in many ways,define--the landscape offews Without Money are sympathetically figured,as, indeed, are some of those who exploit them, like Harry the Pimp. AsMarcus Klein points out, In the light or Gold's theoreticalwriting, one might have expected a stronger denunciation of theprostitutes or at least a materialist analysis of what Bloom calls(after Blake), the "Harlot's curse" (50). But Goldprovides no analysis beyond invoking the dangerous hopelessness ofcapital kin: "Many of the whor*s were girls who had been starvedinto this profession. Once in, they knew no way out" (34).Significantly, the novel opens with a depiction of the neighborhoodprostitutes, and when the reader first encounters Mikey's admirablemother, she is beating him for joining his friends in mocking these"fifty cents a night" girls (18).

 A peculiarly disproportionate amount of the whole of the novel is given over to accounts of prostitution. and the subject might well have--should have. given Gold's special ideological leaning--led to pointed speculation on the social and economic determinants of prostitution. Or it Mighl have led to observations on the matter of the sociopsychological motivations of prostitutes, or even to study of the trade as an instance of bourgeois capitalist venture. (Foreigners. 186)

Although Gold's portrayal of the prostitutes is generally asympathetic depiction of nice girls trying to raise money to bring theirparents from Europe, the narrator does reveal a sense of horror anddisgust associated with the female body. (1) Even more than sexualizedbodies, however, the whor*s stand as physical barriers on the streetssignifying the moral barriers imposed by life on the Lower East. Side:This passage reveals what Gold Finds especially distasteful about theprostitutes. Part of it, of course, is that they are conducting"business," selling their bodies on the capitalist system; asBenjamin puts it, the prostitute is

 On sunshiny days the whor*s sat on chairs along the sidewalks. They sprawled indolently, their legs taking up half the pavements. People stumbled over a gauntlet of whor*s' meaty legs The (rids winked and jeered. made lascivious gestures to passing males. They pulled at coat-tails and cajoled men with fake honeyed words. They called their wares like pushcart peddlers. At five years I knew what it was they sold. The girls were naked under flowery kimonos. Chunks of breast and belly occasionally flashed. Slippers In tug from their feet; they were always ready for "business." (15)

"pure commodity as fetish ... saleswoman and wares inone" (157). Also interesting, however, is the sense ofcontamination and disruption suggested by these women, who pull atcoattails and trip men up. What's dangerous about whor*s is notjust that they offer sex, but. that they offer "fake honeyedwords," false and inauthentic, luring men with misplaced hope offulfillment.

The capitalist system is founded upon the same misplaced hopes,rather than the hope for--and action toward--the systemic change thatGold promoted. In the context of his eager pursuit of individualcapital, Herman Gold's labor is not an expression of the manly,proletarian strength that Mike Gold's nonfiction writing promotes.On the contrary, his vigor is sapped by his faith in capitalistfictions; his body is weakened from lead poisoning, his legs areshattered, and he develops a debilitating fear of heights. However, whenHerman recites stories of his own, "men and women ... sathypnotized like children. ... [and] held long debates after each story.Like earnest children, they discussed villains, and magic mountains, andwishing. lamps as if this mythology were as real as the sweatshops andgarbage cans" (84). Offering distraction from the surroundingsqualor, Herman's stories--like fairy tales that pacifychildren--provide relief, but also deplete the motivation to work towardrevolution and to demand change. In constructing his own narrative, Goldblends his father's storytelling gift with his mother'spractical realism to expose the fairy tales that romanticize the ghetto.Depicting the Lower East 'Side at the turn of the century throughalternating violence and sentiment, Gold seeks to trigger an emotionalresponse in his readers of the late 1920s (in. the New Masses and otherperiodicals) and the early 1930s (in book form) that neither entertainsnor relieves, but rather activates their commitment to radical change.


Although Herman Gold does not embody a proletarian hero, therecertainly are many displays of exaggerated hypermasculinity in JewsWithout Money, performances that engage in their own romanticized mythsof the ghetto. Mikey's friend nigg*r, leader of the "gang oflittle yids," described as "bravest of the brave, thechieftain of our brave savage tribe," is the most emphatic example(43). This. "bold, tameless, untouchable ... Jewish boy'sgiven name is Abie, and Rachel Rubin, who reads this as an allusion toAbraham Lincoln, suggests that "the gangster's doublenaming--as Abie and as nigg*r--represents an attempt by Gold toemphasize self-empowerment of African Americans; nigg*r is named for theformerly enslaved, and for the one who supposedly did the freeing"(Gold, 42; Rubin, 78). Self-determining and courageous. nigg*r is alsoviolent and, eventually, murderous. Louis One-Eye, Harry the Pimp, JakeWolf. did the youthful members of the "gang of little yids"are acknowledged for their acts of bravery, if often also brutality.Although none of them are precisely "workers" in theproletarian sense, these characters project a powerful, often aggressivemasculinity. (12)

They also exemplify the ways in which immigrant communities bothappropriated and reinforced negative images of racial others in order tosecure social acceptance. "To pit on the cultural forms ofblackness," Eric Lott explains in his study of black faceminstrelsy, "was to engage in a complex affair of manlymimicry" (52). (13) Critics including Lott and Michael Roginexplain that blacklace was a form of identification and adoption as wellas mockery and an expression of disgust. It served to"reinstitut[e] with ridicule the gap between black and whiteworking class even as it reveled in their (sometimes liberator))identification" (Lott 71). (14) Gold's appropriation of racialotherness in the figure of" nigg*r" is similarly slippery, asthe "Avengers of Christie Streeet" both proudly claim andnegatively reinforce racist stereotypes in order to assert their ownAmericanness, their masculinity, their whiteness,and--simultaneously--their difference. This ambivalence about racialdifference can be seen as a consequence of the racial"inbetweenness" of Jewish and other immigrants in anenvironment in which "racial identity was informed 'mid shapedby--even conflated with--notions of manhood" (Roediger, 10. For LeeBernstein, the "racial masquerade" of blackness epitomized bynigg*r's nickname projects a "kind of masculinity that valuesdomination of opponents, pride, daring, and sexual prowess" andserves to provide "a language of power over women for these boyswho seem to have so little control over their own circ*mstances"(120, 124, 122). Moreover, assuming blackness is seen as a means to"avenge anti-Semitism" and also as a way to resist theirparents hopes of assimilation into the middle class, choosing instead tomodel themselves on a "vision of black masculinity as a form ofopposition to poverty and exploitation" (Bernstein 123). (15)However, as Bernstein also suggests, that "nigg*r" iscondemned to a future as a gangster while the other boys aren'treinforces a racial divide and marks the other boys, in contrast, aswhite.(16)

The arena in which the "brave savage tribe" of Mikey andhis friends--the Avengers of Christie St reet--demonstrates their manlyvalor is usually on the streets of the congested urban landscape. Theseboys yearn for natural spaces, though, and cherish the rare andshort-lived appearance of a few blades of grass that sprout up in cracksin the sidewalk. Indeed, when Michael Denning identifies the"ghetto pastoral" as "the most important genre created bythe writers of the proletarian literary movement," he names JewsWithout Money as one of the most influential examples of the genre,which features grim tenement environments that "served as anallegorical landscape of poverty and desire" contrasted with"brief moments of pastoral bliss" (230, 244). (17) Klein,Denning, and other critics have noted that nostalgia for a pastorallandscape is closely connected with Mikey's mother, who longs forthe forest and knows how to choose the right kind of mushrooms, but thedesire for natural spaces also governs the boys' dreams ofadventure and manly heroism. In order to "testify that the world isstill young, and wild and free," Mikey's gang "seizedupon [a] Delancey Street lot, and turned it, with the power ofimagination, into a vast western plain" (47). There the boys actout the staples of boyish adventure, like burying treasures and buildingsnow forts. The experience is made "even more romantic" by thefact that, like "real" cowboys, the "little yids"have to "defend [their] playground by force of arms" from aneighboring gang (47). Violence enhances the appeal of the enactednarratives of youthful masculinity as the racial cowboys-and-Indiannarrative works, like the naming of "nigg*r," to mark theseimmigrant Jews as "white" Americans.

While the adult and the child-sized gangsters of the ghetto provetheir American masculinity through acts of bravery and violence andthrough racialized discourses, the stereotype of the effeminate Jew isnot entirely absent from Gold's novel. just before describingnigg*r, the narrator asserts that "there never were any Jewishgangsters in Europe. The Jews there were a timid bookish lot. ... But itis America that has taught the sons of tubercular Jewish tailors how tokill" (37). (18) In Unheroic Conduct, Daniel Boyarin makes thecontroversial claim that "there is something correct--althoughseriously misvalued--in the persistent representation of the Jewish manas a sort of woman. More than just an antisemetic stereotype, the Jewishideal male as countertype to 'manliness' is an assertivehistorical product of Jewish culture" (3-4). In Jews Without MoneyGold expresses a kind of nostalgia for "timid, bookish" Jewishmasculinity, akin to what Boyarin calls the "Jewish malefemme." In her reading of the novel, Caren Irr interprets thefigure of Mikey as a "gentle boy" figure who is"explicitly marked as heroic because of hisweakness/childishness--not his manly virility" (202). (19) However,immediately after the passage that seems to look back nostalgically at atime when Jewish men were not manly," the narrator introduces us tothe son of the "tubercular Jewish tailor" with the followingwords: "nigg*r was a virile boy, the best pitcher, fighter andcrapshooter in my gang. He was George Washington when our armyannihilated the redcoats. He rode the mustangs, and shot the mostbuffalo among the tenements. He scalped Indians, and was our sternGeneral in war" (37). As this brief description indicates. nigg*rhas evolved from his timid, sickly, Jewish heritage to a tough,"virile" boy whose status as an American is marked by hissuccess in reenactments of the American Revolution and games of the"wild west.," even as his nickname continues to mark him asboth a "real" American and a cultural outsider. By playing at"cowboys and Indians" and by marking one of their own as"nigg*r," as well as by invoking the most definitivelyAmerican of military heroes, the boys of Christie Street (and throughthem, perhaps Gold I i ii self) proclaim their identities as Americanmen. Indeed, this episode in the novel enacts a tale of masculine Jewishassertiveness as nigg*r punches a schoolteacher for calling Mikey a"little kike" after the bo used a "dirty word" inclass. A target of the young Mikey's "dirty" language,nigg*r's powerful fist, and the older Gold's damning depictionof the "irritable, starched old maid" as a "cow with nomilk or calf or bull," this teacher serves as an object throughwhich both nigg*r and Mikey/Gold can overturn the timid Jewish immigrantstereotype and assert in its place their respectively physically andverbally aggressive American identities (36). (20)

In counterpoint to these "tough Jews," as if to bothinvoke the traditional figure of the effeminate Jew and assert thatJewish boys who survive on the Lower East Side are not lacking invirility, the narrator offers the story of Joey Cohen, who (likeMikey's sister) was "sacrificed" under the wheels of ahorse car. Joey is "precocious in the Jewish way, hill of a strangekindness and understanding" (50). more convincing exemplar, 1 wouldargue, of the "gentle boy" that Irr delineales with referenceto Mikey, Joey is described as "the dreamy boy in spectacles whowas so sorry when he killed [a] butterfly. He was always reading books,and 11,1d many queer ideas" (49). Joey's "kindness andunderstanding" resemble Katie's, but are not valorized; thehom*ophobia invoked here is consistent wit lithe novel'sglorification of re/productive action. Moreover, Joey embodies thenegative stereotype of the money-hungry Jew in his determination tospend his pennies "wisely" and in his willingness (like theprostitutes), for the reward of a nickel, to follow a"gruesome" man who looked like "a corpse in the firstweek of decomposition" (52, 58). Klein claims that Joey'sdeath is "the most purely bathetic [of] the many sentimentalitiesof the novel. ... [and] is totally irrelevant to whatever there is of aplot of a narrative in the novel" (187). The intensity with whichthe narrator apostrophises his dead friend ("Joey Cohen! You whowere sacrificed under the wheels of a horse car, I see you again,Joey!" 50) does seem excessive and disrupts the flow of thenarrative. This is partly because the description of Mikey and Joeyinnocently enjoying a summer day--until their play is terrifyinglyinterrupted by a pederast who first cajoles and then attacks Joey--isinserted into the narrative only after the reader has learned aboutJoey's death when he jumped from a stolen horse-car ride. Ratherthan a regrettable intrusion in the narrative, however, I findJoey's death essential to the portrait of American Jewishmasculinity that Gold articulates. After all, Joey is the bookish,sensitive, "old world" Jewish boy as well as the one who wasassaulted by a pederast; his masculinity is doubly compromised.Joey's death reinforces the assertion that survival on the LowerEast Side requires virility; by that logic, the very survival of thenarrator demonstrates his own unquestionable manliness. (21)

A further comment on the passing of the 'Jewish malefemme" can be identified in the scene in Moskowitz's winecellar, during which Mikey recites a patriotic poem. In addition todemonstrating Mikey's acculturation as an American, the sceneoffers two icons of machismo that reinforce Gold's position onJewish masculinity: "At one end of the room, under a big Americanflag, hung a chromo showing Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill. (22) Atthe other end hung a Jewish Zionist flag--blue and white bars and starof David. It draped a crayon portrait of Dr. Theodore Herzl, the-Zionist leader, with his pale, proud face, black beard, and burningeyes" (115). As Klein suggests, this scene demonstrates theimmigrants' attempt to embrace American symbols and conveysGold's message that his Lower East Side is authentically American,even in a space where Jews sing Romanian songs and fight over passagesin the Talmud. (23) In addition, however, the pairing of TheodoreRoosevelt, a figure Klein elsewhere refers to as "the first towrite about the cowboy in his mythical dimensions," with TheodorHerzl, "paragon of the 'New Jewish Man," calls to mindMax Nordau's prescription for "new muscle Jews [with] healthybodies and healthy minds" (Klein, "Westerner" 65;Boyarin, 73, 277). Nordau's and Herzl's insistence on a newkind of Jewish man is in some ways analogous to Gold's depiction ofhis gangster friends and his call for "virility" among membersof the proletariat. Moreover, the association of Herzl with Roosevelt,"originator" of myth of the West," seems related toMikey's desire to visualize the Jewish Messiah as Buffalo Bill cometo vanquish enemies rather than bring peace, enacting the replacement ofthe ".Jewish male femme" with the "new muscle Jew."Refusing the consumer-capitalist model of American identity and therelated false comforts of fairy tales and prostitutes, Mikey turns to analternative idyllic American story of the mythic cowboy.


In The Cleat Depression and the Culture of Abundance, Rita Barnardprovides a way to understand "the lit cl'A ry proletariansannoying celebration of hard-boiled male 'vigor" by drawing onRaymond Williams's concept of a "residual culturalforce": Reading Gold's "book of poverty" (24) in thecontext of the twentieth-century American promise of prosperity helpsilluminate Gold's depictions of bejewelled madams and impoverishedwhor*s alike while providing an interpretive context for Gold'sexcessively "manly" rhetoric. We may also see the pastoralelements in Jews Without Mono, and other "ghetto pastorals"identified by Denniitg functioning as a "residual culturalforce" opposing diseased urbanization and commercialization:"Earth's trees, grass, flowers could not grow on mystreet." Mikey tells us, "but the rose of syphilis bloomed bynight and by day" (15). Here Gold, like Sherwood Anderson, developsa "conventional vein of contrast between urban whorishness andpastoral innocence" (Lears 32). The counterpoint to the ghetto isalso articulated in gendered terms as Gold's "pastoralinnocence" is imagined as a beautiful woman--not a workhorse or aprostitute or a dead girl (the three options for women in the ghetto),but a bona fide object of desire:

 the idea that a residual cultural element might be present in "proletarianism" enables us, for example, to discover more than a garden-variety sexism in the obnoxious machismo of the New Masses ... in particular that of Mike Gold (who made a point of scoffing at pansies, wearing sombreros, and spitting on the floor). The virile posture expresses, at least in some measure, an oppositional response to the new promise of abundance and leisure. (33) New York is a devil's dream. the most urbanized city in the world. It is all geometry angles and stone. It is mythical, a city buried by a volcano. No grass is found in this petrified city, no big living trees, no (lowers, no bird but the drab little lecherous sparrow, no soil, loam, earth; fresh earth to smell, earth to walk on, to roll on, and love like a woman. (40)

Gold's nostalgia for a pre-urban landscape isindistinguishable from his longing for an idealized, uncorrupted woman,who can be rolled on and loved. Similarly, Mikey'S adaptation ofthe myth of Buffalo Bill has, predictably, a woman to be rescued as itscenterpiece: The pastoral fantasy and the related myth of the West is,at heart., about "escaping with the white girl"--aboutrescuing a beautiful white maiden, whose counterpart on the Lower EastSide would be doomed to early death, prostitution, or destruction of herbeauty through long hours in a sweatshop. This, perhaps, is why a"fresh" young girl in the Lower East Side is considered a"false Messiah," and why Gold demonstrates that even hisbeautiful young Aunt Lena becomes prematurely aged and sickly (130).Lena's loss of beauty is ultimately redeemed, however, when shegets involved with the labor movement and gains new pride and power(Giles, 63-66). Beauty in the ghetto is always a false promise, about tobe "ruined" like nigg*r's sister Lily, unless and untilit is rescued by the Communist Messiah, which arrives only through anemotional awakening followed by committed activism.

 I walked down Hester Street toward Mulberry. Yes, it was like the Wild West. ... Then a secret message was sent us from a beautiful white maiden. She was a prisoner in the camp of the Indians. The cruel red-skins were about to torture her. Buffalo Bill and I rode and rode and rode. In the nick of time we saved her. Two hundred cruel redskins bit the dust before our trusty rifles. We escaped with the white girl, and rode and rode and rode. (187)

The redemption offered by conversion to Communism entails access tothe longed-for "garden of the human spirit" that the narratorassures us the Revolution will enable (309). Several critics point outthat, although the figure who first reveals the Worker's Revolutionto Mikey is described in the novel as a "man on an East Sidesoap-box," in Gold's own experience the speaker who inspiredhis commitment to the Party was a woman (309). Klein and others identifythe speaker as Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, "that siren of the leftwhose appeal to young men must have been more than political"(Klein, Foreigners, 185). (25) By transforming the soapbox speaker intoa man Gold regenders the role of redeemer, creating a new, inspiring"male dream" with which to replace his father's"foolish male dreams." Although Gold identifies Katie as the"heroine" of his novel, the domestic, maternal nurturer whooffers support to individuals is notthe force behind necessary systemicchange. The women standing on street corners in this novel are notradical activists but prostitutes, corrupted products of andparticipants in the capitalist system; they need to be saved by a manbringing news of the "world movement" that "had been bornto abolish poverty" (309). With this, promise of a heroic,redemptive ending, Gold's narrative reenacts what might be seen asyet another version of an optimistic fairy tale, but one that enables,rather than forestalls, the coining revolution.

Like the pastoral, the genre of the Western is a residual culturalform contrasted to the urban landscape. As Klein explains. "thelife of the cowboy was a temporary staving off of the next phase ofhistory, already en route from the east.; the cowboy borrowed life froman order of things that was about to be overrun, and was an emblem of apast that now barely survived into the present" (69). It signifiesa precapitalist, masculine space of potential. Gold follows tradition inplacing the rescue of a "beautiful white maiden" at the centerof his Western myth, but that maiden is, of course, an idealized andimpossible construct. For Lee Bernstein, this is another example of the"racial masquerade" through which Mikey seeks to assert hisown whiteness by figuring the Italian boys he will fight as Indians andinsisting on the whiteness of the girl he Would heroically save(Bernstein, 126-27). But in addition to offering access to afoundational, racialized myth of American identity, the invocation ofthe West in Jews Without Money, like its appearance in Gold'stheoretical writing, allows a space for the dominant hypermasculi Ile,even in a novel that features a sickly, ineffectual father paired with awisely proletarian mother.

The turn to nostalgic "Western" heroism, however(ultimately displaced by the "true Messiah" of theRevolution), is set off throughout the narrative by the invocation ofanother residual cultural form: the sentimental. Although many criticsfaith. Gold for what Klein, for example, calls his "monstrouslysentimental proletarianism" (Foreigners 81), sentimental affect inGold's novel is associated not simply with the maternal, but alsowith the call to revolution that requires both the incitement tosympathy and violent. heroism to be actualized. According to Tompkins,the Western was itself a response to the domestic sentimental novelsthat dominated the American literary scene for much of the nineteenthcentury ("West of Everything," 115). The sentimental novel isgenerally centered on a woman or group of women living under"difficult and painful circ*mstances ... and serving others. Inthese struggles women give one another a great deal of emotional andmaterial support and have close relationships" (115). This genreoften features the death of an innocent and idealized female figure andis founded upon the exchange of sympathy, which is an alternativeemotional economy to the material quid pro quo ("fifty cents anight!") of prostituted capitalism. Tompkins also points out,however, that the women in sentimental novels are generally submissiveand uncomplaining, which were not traits valued by Gold, who promotedaction, resistance, and change. In this context, it is again importantto note that Esther--innocent and idealized, submissive, uncomplaining,and ultimately sacrificed to the destructive forces of poverty--is themost fully fictionalized character in this "autobiographical"account of Gold's family. Like joey Cohen's, Esther'sdeath allows Gold to stimulate the sympathy of his readers while makingroom for a new model of active resistance against exploitation. (26)

By portraying Katie Gold's "universal sympathy," the"emotional and material support" she provides for other women,and her suffering at her daughter's death, Gold deploys thesentimental form alongside the opposing genre of the Western that.structures the dreams and adventures of the little boys and the oldergangsters. Although both forms are taken from the mass culture that Golddisdains as numbing narcotic and dissolute whor*, their inclusion drawson the oppositional force of residual cultural forms to rally againstthe slick Hollywood fantasies of the 1930s, like the Busby Berkeleymusical extravaganzas, that served as dominant mass cultural narratives.Gold turns to the register of the sentimental, idealizing his mother andinventing the death of a sister in order to activate the feelings, andultimately the participation, of readers and thereby to help speed therevolutionary "great beginning" (309).. Although the genre ofthe sentimental has been criticized for encouraging passivity andreinforcing the status quo, Tompkins reads sentimental novels as"attempts to redefine the social order" and describes them"as a political enterprise, halfway between sermon and socialtheory, that both codifies and attempts to mold the values of itstime" (Sensational Designs, xi, 126). Comparing thenineteenth-century sentimental novel to the "tradition of thejeremiad," Tompkins argues that both are "act[s] of persuasionaimed at defining social reality" (140). Like proletariandiscourse, then, the sentimental can be seen as an oppositional forcewhose goal is to both describe reality and motivate readers towardchange.

Building on Tompkins's work, Suzanne Clark recovers thedisruptive potential of the sentimental within twentieth-centurydiscourses: "The sentimental acts as a pivotal ground in a battleover literary and moral value, over the fundamental social warrantsconstructing discursive agreements" (2). Theorized as a site ofpotential resistance, the inclusion of the sentimental in .Jews WithoutMoney not only, in Philip Fisher's phrase, "trains andexplicates new forms of feeling," but also "arouses andexcites action toward that pan of the public future that is still opento decision and alternatives" (18). As Clark and othersdemonstrate, proletarian realism was doomed to be dismissed by criticsas sentimental because avantgarde modernist "values had extended tomake all commitment seem sentimental" (Clark, 3). At the same time,as Cora Kaplan Puts it, "a collective moralism has developed insocialist thought which, instead of criticizing the reactionaryinterpretation of psychic life, stigmatizes sensibility itself,interpreting excess of feeling as regressive, bourgeois andnon-political" (75). For Gold, however, the emotional appeal--andsome of the conventions--of the sentimental are means by which toeducate his readers in "the emotional habits of Communism"which lead, in turn, to revolutionary action. This accounts for therelatively sympathetic depiction of the neighborhood prostitutes in JewsWithout Money, as opposed to the rhetorical stand through which Golddeploys the metaphor of prostitution in his theoretical writing.

Critics of American modernism including Joseph Entin and SusanEdmunds have identified in writing of the 1930s various revisions to(which are also reactions against) the genre of the sentimental that hadbeen dominant in the nineteenth century. Edmunds argues that thesentimental evolved into what she calls the "domesticexterior," that is, discourses of the feminized sphere of"social housekeepers" and political reformers from whom Goldwould have want ed to distance himself in pursuit of (masculine)revolutionary activity (12). For .Entin, the emergence of"sensational modernism" during the years of the GreatDepression signaled an attempt--through a visceral, sensory experienceof shock--to move readers not simply to pity for the disenfranchised,which he argues is encouraged by the sentimental mode, but toidentification and empathy (18-19). Gold's autobiographical novel(written before the crash of 1929) features a number of characteristicsthat Entin associates with sensational modernism, including "afocus on 'low,' 'exotic,' and 'alien'figures (immigrants and slum dwellers, criminals and cabaret (lancers).and the tropes of bodily harm and disfigurement to express both socialcrisis and cultural crit le" (Entin, 3). This argues forGold's influence on much American writing during the GreatDepression. However, as a committed revolutionary, Gold was seekingaction rather than empathy. and therefore blended sentiment withviolence, aiming to inspire not only feelings but also participation.

That. its association with the feminine rendered the sentimental asite of anxiety for other male authors of the period is suggested byFrances Kerr, who argues that F. Scott Fitzgerald participated in"a discourse in which ideas about the appropriate kind and degreeof emotion in art were inflected with concerns about manlydetachment" and worried "that his artistic masculinity was inquestion" (409). As we have seen, because of the feminization ofmass culture, of intellectuals and writers, and of Jewish men, Gold,too, was concerned that his "artistic masculinity was inquestion." His response was to establish an affect of "manlyattachment" that raises writing from intellectual parasitism oraesthetic prostitution to the status of a revolutionary action andstands against the "fake honeyed" words of whorish capitalismand the false fairy tales it tries to sell. When Gold called forproletarian writing that was "violent and sentimental byturns," he was describing his own technique of alternatingdepictions of violence and machismo with urgent calls for anddemonstrations of sympathy in the hope of "educating theemotions" of his readers to facilitate action. Despite hisreputation for an aggressively masculine pose, Gold adapted and unitedcompeting sets of gendered discourses as he sought to replace thetawdry, prostituted urban landscape of his childhood with a future"garden for the human spirit" (309).

A new writer has been appearing; a wild youth of about twenty-two,the son of working class parents, who himself works in the lumber camps,coal mines, steel mills, harvest fields and mountain camps of America.He is sensitive and impatient. He writes in jets of exasperated feelingand has no time to polish his work. He is violent and sentimental byturns.

--Mike Gold, "Go Left, Young Writer"

My mother had that dark proletarian instinct which distrusts allthat is connected with moneymaking. My father was more childlike.

With female realism she tried to beat the foolish male dreams outof his head.

--Mike Gold, Jews Without Money


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Rabinowitz, Paula. Labor and Desire: Women is Revolutionary Fictionin Depression America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,1991.

Roediger, David. Colored White: Transcending the Racial Past.Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Rogin, Michael. Blackface, White Noise: Jewish. Immigrants in theHoollywood Melting Pot. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Rubin, Rachel. Jewish Gangsters in Modern Literature. Urbana:University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Sipley, Tristan. "Proletarian Pastoral Reconsidered: ReadingMike Gold in an Age of Ecological Crisis. Cultural Logic 2010.clogic.eserver.org.

Tompkins, Jane. Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work. ofAmerican. Fiction 1790-1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

--. West of Everything: The Inner Life of Westerns. New York:Oxford University Press, 1992.

Wald, Alan M. Exiles from a Future Time: The Forging of theMid-Twentieth Century


(1.) For feminist critiques of this editorial and other proletarianwriting, see Rabinowitz, Labor and Desire, 22-23: Foley, 96-97.

(2.) A collection of essays edlted by Mary Chapman and GlennHendler has begun to challenge the assumed link between femininity andsentimentality. The editors locate the origins of the sentimental novelin the eighteenth-century "man of feeling" and argue thatwriters throughout the nineteenth century developed a discourse ofmasculine sentimentality that competed with other models ol. masculinity(3).

(3.) In counterpoint to this opposition between virile worker andeffeminate bourgeoisie, Caren Irr identifies the "gentle boydeologeme" as an ambiguous model of gender and sexuality thatappears in a "repressed" form in some proletarian writing(202).

(4.) For a compelling argument about the interdependence ofmodernists and the proletarian writers of the 1930s, see Dickstein.

(5.) Gorman 's chapter on "American Communism and PopularEntertainments" offers a detailed examination of the proletarianwriters' critique of mass culture.

(6.) See also the end of "Two Critics in a Bar-room,"where Gold's interlocutor admonishes him to "go home and dosome honest work."

(7.) For more on Jewishness as compromised masculinity see, e.g.,Boyarin.

(8.) Again, the use of this trope to describe capitalist culturalproduction is hardly unique to Gold, but his deployment of the image isnotably protean.

(9.) See Daniel Aarons's Writers on the hp tor a discussion ofthe nine characteristics Gold ascribes to "ProletarianRealism" (208-09).

(10.) Like many Marxist thinkers, Gold "subsume [s] thefeminist struggle into the larger' struggle against capital"(Hartmann, 97). Gold is also sympathetic to the men who oppress thesewomen, suggesting that poverty and frustration drive them to mistreatwomen. For example. Gold describes--and to some degree ex-cuses--gangrape as "a popular sport wherever men live in brutal poverty"(Jews Without Money 28).

(11.) While prostiiffies are portrayed with relative sympathy, thenarrator's invective is saved tor the "fat old maidteacher" who IS 'apostrophized as a "ruptured Americanvirgin," a "cow with no milk or calf or bull" (37).Prostitution is a contaminant., but nonproductive spinsterhood is evenmore degenerate and unnatural.

(12.) As such they can be seen as precursors to the "toughJews" Paul Breines identifies as coming into vogue in Americanculture after Israel's victory in the 1967 Six Day War. However,even these men have their sentimental sides. Louis One-Eye, for example,is i helpful, loving son. For an insightful analysis of theintersections among gangsterism, masettlinity , and Jewishness, seeRubin.

(13.) Also cited in Bernstein.1 21.

(14.) Michael Rogin specifically considers the widespread adoptionof blackface by Jewish entertainers in Blackface face, 117,10, Noise.

(15.) In Trinity of Passion, Alan Wald suggests that "acrossover identity with Black Americans" often served JewishAmerican Communists as "a surrogate for their own anxieties"about anti-Semitism arid cultural otherness (183, 209). For some, their"sense of Jewish identity was largely informed by the belief thatthey shared with African Americans common goals and common enemies"(184).

(16.) I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for highlighting therelevance of the novel's racial dimension.

(17.) Klein's Foreigners offers further discussion ofpastoralism in the novel. For an ecocritical-Marxist analysis of thenovel's pastoralism. see Sipley.

(18.) According to Rnbin. since Gold read Isaac Babel'snarratives about Jewish gangsters in Odessa, he must have known thisclaim was not true (73). It does, however, allow Gold to invokenostalgically and then overcome the stereotype of the "timid,bookish" Jew.

(19.) This, hr argues. is why Gold focuses on Mikey'schildhood and "purposefully excluded the painful transition intovirile manhood from his account" (202).

(20.) See Bloom and Rubin for interesting accounts of the culturalwork of cursing inky). Without Money.

(21.) For Giles, Joey "represents, in part. the sensitive,idealistic side of Michael which the brutality of life in the ghettothreatens to destroy" rather than the effeminate, overlyintellectual Jew who needs to be killed off (65).

(22.) This iconic American image of Roosevelt also hangs on thewall of nigg*r's family home.

(23.) For an analysis of the striving toward an"authentic" American identity demonstrated in this scent, seeKlein on, e.g., the poem Mikey recites. In contrast, Bloom interpretsthe chromo of Roosevelt as "an oblique indication of Gold'scontempt for the patrician liberalism dominant in the teens" (54).

(24.) "The Book of Poverty" is the title of Folsom'sreview of a 1966 reissue of Jews Without Money.

(25.) Wald suggests the original speaker was the anarchist, EmmaGoldman (48).

(26.) The inclusion of these two mutilated bodies in Gold'snarrative along with Herman's broken body might be seen as a modelfor the "sensational" modernism identified by Joseph Entin,which features "the trope of the disfigured body" (5).Literary Left. Chape1 Hill: The University of North Carolina Press,2001.

--. Trinity Passion: The Literary Left and the Antifascist Crusade.Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Weininger, Otto. Sex and Character 1906. London: William Heinemann,1975.

Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. New York: OxfordUniversity Press, 1978.

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"Violent and sentimental by turns": the gendered discourses of mike gold. (2024)
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