«“Making a Difference Where None Existed:” Reading Ideological State Apparatuses in William Attaway's Blood on the Forge A thesis submitted in ...»
CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, NORTHRIDGE
“Making a Difference Where None Existed:”
Reading Ideological State Apparatuses in William Attaway's Blood on the Forge
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements
For the degree of Masters of Arts
Paul S. Rauch
The thesis of Paul S. Rauch is approved:
Charles W. Hatfield, Ph.D. Date ________________________________________ ______________________
Dorothy G. Clark, Ph.D. Date ________________________________________ ______________________
Anthony D. Dawahare, Ph.D., Chair Date California State University, Northridge ii
To my committee: the three of you have had incredibly positive influences on my experience in the program. I am honored by and thankful for your participation in this, my culminating experience. My writing and analytical skills have improved notably thanks to your contributions as teachers...
To Dr. Anthony Dawahare, who introducing me to Blood on the Forge in his Proletarian Literature class and the philosophy of Louis Althusser in Critical Theory class, for agreeing to work with me and for helping me with this project from its conception to completion—it has been a long journey and a lot of work, I know—I thank you. Your mentorship has greatly influenced my approach to scholarship, and your encouragement has emboldened me as a writer and thinker.
To Dr. Dorothy Clark, in appreciation for the attention that you have given my writing even beyond classwork, from helping me with the statement of purpose that got me into the program to my Yeats/Beckett project that lives on, for encouraging me to keep writing, for all your help and willingness to work with me, and for your contributions to this project, thank you so much!
To Dr. Charles Hatfield, thank you for always encouraging and helping me to explore my ideas for literary analysis even such reaches of the imagination as ‘Samuel Beckett as Visual Artist’ and ‘1001 Nights in Malone Dies,’ and I appreciate your
contributions to this project as well—your input early on in its conceptualization left an enduring impression.
To these inspiring professors: Dr. Scott D. Andrews, Dr. Kent B. Baxter, Dr. Michael E.
Bryson, Dr. Abel B. Franco, Dr. Nathanial F. Mills, Dr. Enchao Shi, Dr. Jackie E.
Stallcup, and lecturer, Audrey B. Thacker.
To Marjorie A. Seagoe, for all her patience and help.
To my unofficial committee and fellow students: Pamela Nagami and Cesar Soto.
To my fellow students: Fatema Baldiwala, Kim Teaman Carroll, Larry Coulter, Anna Dawahare, Rachael Jordan Fleming, Jessica Glick, Dina Hady, Emily Havey, Ashley LeDawn Henry, Leah Horwitz, Nick Ignacio, Jennifer Ellis Johnson, Leon Khachooni, Allison MacLeod, Loretta McCormick, Alexander Magur, Courtney Munz, Michelle Mutti, Christopher Rosas, Keli Rowley, Sevan Salibian, Vania Sciolini, Mary, Sonny, and Anne Yale.
To my incredibly supportive and tolerant family.
--Dedicated in memory of Carol B. Rauch and Bebop
Set in 1919 during the Great Migration, William Attaway’s 1941 Proletarian novel, Blood on the Forge, a text too often overlooked by the mainstream of literary studies, follows the three Moss brothers from their experience tenant farming in the agrarian South to steel working in the newly industrialized North. Seemingly anticipating Louis Althusser’s highly influential work, “Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses,” Blood on the Forge portrays indissoluble cultural, ideological, and material conditions. The cumulative spectrum of the novel’s portrayal links the Mosses’ immediate struggles to a broader system of exploitation. Attaway’s depiction of the South foregrounds dialectical relationships between black folk culture and the white aristocracy, while undercurrents in the text emphasize ideological underpinnings that work to maintain dominance in these dialectical relationships. An overwhelming presence of violence pervades all aspects of the Mosses’ lives. Work life, family life, social engagement, and thus conscious and subconscious ideologies are shaped by repression consisting of physical and mental violence.
While Attaway portrays racism and repression dominating the South, and although the dialectics of race discrimination persist in the North, the role of ideological
and repressive state apparatuses become more qualitatively distinctive as separately functioning institutions, and ideological state apparatuses are the dominant means of manipulation in the class warfare waged against the Mosses and the working community in the industrial setting. The issues of racism that were overt and foregrounded in the Southern setting slip into the background of the text and operate more covertly as part of the substructure of the Northern mill town culture. The novel depicts racism persisting in Northern culture; however, it is clearly different from the racism of the South, and it reveals fluidity in the conceptualization of race, of which variations depend on the exploitative relationships in the local culture. As the Mosses come from a violently racist culture, their individual ideologies reflect such violence and racism, as well as resistance to it. In the North, however, the Mosses are swept away by the currents of social recreations that are ritualized in a manner comparable to those described in Althusser’s theoretical system. All the while, racist ideology continues to factor into policymaking in the North, as it is in the South, dictated by demands for labor. Although Attaway portrays a tenuous hold on authority by both repressive and ideological state apparatuses in contrast to Althusser’s model, by showing the continuity from South to North of exploitative relationships that produce the Mosses’ material conditions interconnected to institutionalized manners of thinking and corporal enforcement within Southern and Northern cultures, Blood on the Forge reaffirms as well as informs Althusser’s theory through representations of the powerful yet tenuous influence of the state apparatuses, the dialectical clash of humanistic freewill, ideological determinism, and the deterministic effect of brute force in relation to institutionalized racism and labor exploitation of early 20th century America.
The June 1939 issue of Daily Worker featured William Attaway, author of Blood on the Forge, sharing with readers his father’s allegation that black “kids brought up in the South unconsciously accept the whites’ estimate of them, and they never get to know what it is to be a human among humans” (Yarborough 299). Attaway explained further that his father relocated their family to the North in the hope that his children would not “absorb these false Southern ideas” (299). Possessing a progressive insight into the problem of false consciousness regarding racialized ideologies, Attaway’s father anticipated a better life in a different ideological environment. Blood on the Forge focalizes similar concerns by contrasting the main characters’ experiences in and outside of Southern culture. As tenant farmers in the South and steelworkers in the North, the novel’s Moss brothers are almost continually conflicted by false consciousness resulting from culturally institutionalized ideology. Thus the novel demonstrates pervasive commonalities as well as crucial differences inherent in the ways institutionalized ideologies maintain false consciousness, regardless of geopolitical differences between the North and South.
1 Attaway’s engagement with these issues came roughly three decades before renowned philosopher, Louis Althusser, would break ground with a theoretical system describing the roles that cultural convention and physical restraint plays in the ideological makeup of individuals, as subjects. Althusser shows how ideology and ideological institutions are major factors in determining the actual life processes of individuals.
Althusser’s perspective challenges the idea expressed in the epigraph to this chapter, which is taken from Marx’s classic The German Ideology. Althusser sees greater connectivity between the influence from the ideological process of the individual, as it affects the material outcome in society. Anticipating Althusser’s highly influential theory of ideological and repressive state apparatuses, Blood on the Forge portrays indissoluble cultural, ideological, and material conditions. The novel’s significance lies in its complex portrayals of racism connected to cultural ideologies, as well as in the cumulative spectrum of its representations of immediate struggles as these relate to broader issues of exploitation.
My intention is to show how Blood on the Forge engages ideas about the significance of the interior world of individual consciousness as it relates to and departs from the outer world of physical and societal action. Blood on the Forge engages the question of cause and effect in regard to whether ideology is the effect of physical experience or the other way around. The picture that Attaway gives us shows both happening at once. At times conflicting and at others coordinating, ideology both causes and is affected by the material experiences of the protagonists. Thus, Blood on the Forge can be read as Althusserian for the weight that it gives to false consciousness as an influential factor in the lives of its protagonists. Nevertheless, the novel achieves its 2 Althusserian effect without underplaying the humanism or the impact of the physical experience on the ideological and psychological development of its characters. Blood on the Forge reflects the way that conventional ideology, combined with repressive forces, manipulates the lives of people for the purpose of exploiting them, and, importantly, it shows how such exploitative measures of manipulation extend to ideologies of race, which ultimately also function on behalf of the exploiters.
William Attaway and Proletarian Literature Attaway developed as a writer within the burgeoning Proletarian literary movement of the 1930s and 40s. While his younger sister had encouraged him to start writing in high school, it was reading Langston Hughes, a major literary figure and proponent of Proletarian literature, who inspired him to become a writer. Attaway “had always assumed that Negro success was to be won in genteel professions like medicine, but upon first reading Langston Hughes, his outlook was transformed” (Margolies 63).
While in college, he was writing plays for his sister and her theater friends; however, following the unexpected death of his father, Attaway left the university for a transient life of travel. During this time, he gained experience by working in various labor trades, including steelwork (Yarborough 40), writing all the while. He eventually returned home, went back to school, and became a member of the Federal Writers’ Program, a government-funded employment project for writers. The prominent authority on both
African American literature and William Attaway, Richard Yarborough believes:
It was probably during this period that Attaway became acquainted with Richard Wright, then another young, aspiring black author. Having heard 3 Wright lecture on organized labor, Attaway once invited him to address the university literary society. Attaway recalled the event this way: “He
Hearing Wright read his work and seeing the audience reject Wright’s words deeply impressed Attaway, in that he “understood that the issues he would address in his own fiction might disturb readers” (Accomando 12). The experience was a landmark in Attaway’s development as a writer of Proletarian fiction, in that it did “not dissuade him from providing blunt depictions of racism and struggle” (12) in his own work. Wright had a profound influence on the writer that Attaway would become, and this is further evident in his most revered work, Blood on the Forge, as “critics compared the novel to Wright’s Native Son” (12), a novel now considered a landmark achievement in African American and Proletarian literature.
By the time Attaway had finished his B.A., the University of Illinois had produced his play Carnival (1935), and the journal, Challenge, had printed his story “The Tale of the Blackamoor” (1936). Attaway published his first novel Let Me Breathe Thunder in 1939, and two years later published his second, Blood on the Forge, a powerful depiction of race and class struggle. Reviews of both Let Me Breathe Thunder and Blood on the Forge, while fairly positive, were consistently tempered with negative commentary, and neither book was commercially successful. The critics acknowledged 4 potential in Attaway’s work; however, they almost invariably complained that it fell short of his potential. Let Me Breathe Thunder was treated somewhat dismissively due to its white protagonists, and widely viewed as a failure to sufficiently address issues of racism, while Blood on the Forge was often criticized for its lack of progressive characters and misinterpreted as defeatist.