Community and social justice in New Deal-era urban literature

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Harvey M. Teres


Community, Social justice, New Deal-era, Urban literature

Subject Categories

American Literature


This dissertation, "Community and Social Justice in New Deal-Era Urban Literature," explores the intersection between urban literature and liberal debates over community from the 1920s to the 1950s. It reinterprets literary and documentary projects in light of New Deal policies that promoted urban renewal in tandem with a new sense of national community. Highlighting the relationship between American modernism and the welfare state, the dissertation contrasts the vision of community development in Federal Writers' Project guidebooks with novels and documentary writing about New York City from Jewish-American and African-American authors, as well as modernist novels by leftwing radicals. While recognizing the contribution of scholars who focus on radical cultural politics of the 1930s, the dissertation contends that more influential liberal-progressive debates often motivated urban writers, who saw the metropolis as both a formal and a social challenge. It shows how these writers illuminated positive elements of the New Deal community project, explored its blind spots, and identified competing understandings of community. By juxtaposing these literary conversations about community with modern social justice debates centered on John Rawls, the dissertation argues for literature's role in weighing just development aims. The writers considered include: John Dos Passos, Ralph Ellison, Daniel Fuchs, Albert Halper, Ann Petry, Roi Ottley, Henry Roth, Richard Wright, and Anzia Yezierska.


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