Tillie Olsen — страница 6

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as if it was possible. It was just after Hindenburg turned over power to Hitler–and the enormity of the struggle demanded to stop what might result from that was just beginning to be evident…. And I did so love my comrades. They were all blossoming so. These were the same kind of people I’d gone to school with, who had quit, as was common in my generation, around the eighth grade…. whose development had seemed stopped, though I had known such inherent capacity in them. Now I was seeing that evidence, verification of what was latent in the working class. It’s hard to leave something like that. (quoted in Rosenfelt, "Thirties" 383) Clearly Olsen did not share the problem of the enlightened middle-class writer who, like Meridel Le Sueur, contemplated in the

’30s how best to identify with the working class. Hers was a different dilemma: Whereas our social system defines Olsen’s intellectual and professional aspirations as middle class, her personal and emotional identification remained, profoundly with the class of her birth. Olsen appreciated the power of class origin, which, as I have argued earlier, Le Sueur unintentionally trivialized in "The Fetish of Being Outside." Both "intellectual" pursuits and the struggles of working people to improve their lives were crucially important to Olsen, and how to live in both worlds remained her insoluble riddle. While Olsens writing career was obstructed byher gender and class origin, and by the demands of wage and domestic labor, the historic conditions of the ’30s

also pulled her from writing into activism. The Depression, the rise of fascism in Europe, the threat of world war, and the apparent success of socialism in the Soviet Union instilled a sense of urgency and possibility for radical change that competed along with everything else for Olsen’s energies. "Every freedom movement has … its roll of writers participating at the price of their writing," she comments in Silences (143). This was for Olsen a period of collective effort in myriad forms–Party meetings, union organizing, picket lines, demonstrations, leafleting–not the solitude necessary, for sustained writing. About the threat of fascism in Europe, she says, Sometimes [in conflict] with what needed to be done at home was an international sense and an anti-war

sense, the threat of war in the world…. We knew about Dachau very early, we knew about the concentration camps, the Left press was full of it…. It made my kind of book [Yonnondio] more and more difficult to write. . . . You remember how people felt after Allende? You remember how people felt after things were not ending in Vietnam, and you were so personally identified with it?… It was so much of one’s being…. You lived with it in every room of your house… in every conversation whether it came up or not. It was a living, actual presence and force. We had that kind of consciousness [during the '30s], so many of us…. [It] made other concerns seem trivial by comparison. (Rosenfelt interview) Yet, as Rosenfelt points out, passages such as the following one from a ’30s

journal express Olsen’s frustration at the amount of time required for things that took her away from writing, including political work and the necessity to write pieces on demand for various political activities: "Struggled all day on the Labor Defender article. Tore it up in disgust. It is the end for me of things like that to write–I can’t do it–it kills me" (quoted in Rosenfelt, "Thirties" 384). "There came a time," Olsen tells us in Silences, when the "fifteen hours of daily realities became too much distraction for the writing" (20). But Olsen never entirely gave the struggle to save her writing self. Her determination to return to writing only deepened after the bombing of Hiroshima. Olsen vividly remembers one article, in

what had been a series of horrific ones in the San Francisco Chronicle, that described "the ninth night," the first night without moonlight after the holocaust. Even without moonlight, the newspaper reported, the sky above Hiroshima had been eerily illuminated by bodies still burning from radiation. At that moment Olsen pledged "to write on the side of life," although it would be eight years before she could act on that resolve (interview). Olsen remained politically active in the ’40s and ’50s, serving as head of the CIO’s Allied War Relief program and as president of organizations as diverse as the California CIO’s Women’s Auxiliary and the Parent-Teachers Association. In 1946 she authored a women’s column in People’s World, "writing