In This Article Mike Gold

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Biographical Chapters, Memoirs, and Autobiographical Fiction

American Literature Mike Gold
by
David Roessel
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0151

Introduction

Mike Gold (or Michael Gold; he used both names on published works) was born Itzok Granich in the Jewish East Side of New York in 1893. Although he had a tendency in his later years to exaggerate his family’s situation and his lack of formal education, the Granichs certainly struggled financially when Gold was in his teens. Gold’s literary apprenticeship was served first on the socialist newspaper the New York Call, and then in the bohemian atmosphere of Greenwich Village radical institutions, such as The Masses magazine and the Provincetown Players. Gold spent much of the 1920s trying to recreate the atmosphere of these institutions with new, more proletarian versions of the important influences of his youth, the New Masses magazine and the New Playwrights Theatre. In 1920 he took the name Mike Gold, around the time when he embraced communism. From that point on, Gold saw art as a weapon in the class struggle, and he promoted the idea of proletarian literature in the United States. In 1930, Gold published the book that made his literary reputation, Jews Without Money. In this work, he conveys the reality and resilience of the New York tenement of his early life without asserting an overt political message until the end. Gold’s literary influence, however, extended far beyond the praise he received for Jews Without Money, especially in the early thirties. As an editor and contributor to the New Masses and a columnist for the Daily Worker, Gold strove to become the H. L. Mencken of the Left—a critic whose biting perspective would help shape the direction of American literature. But his seemingly inflexible politics caused him to be viewed by some as simply a Soviet mouthpiece. So, while he published several books based upon his articles and columns, only Jews Without Money has remained in print. Gold’s influence waned during World War II, and all but disappeared afterwards. During the late forties, as the creep of McCarthyism began to be felt, he relocated his family to France, returning to New York in 1950. In 1955 he moved to San Francisco, where he died in 1967, never having completed the second novel to follow Jews Without Money. This misconstrues his output, as his collected newspapers columns total over a thousand pages. Literary criticism has forgiven many a writer for fascist sympathies, but to a large degree it still marginalizes Gold for his communist convictions.

General Overviews

While there has previously been no distinct bibliography dedicated to Gold, the sections about his life in general overview texts are the best places to start. As a significant figure of the literary left, Gold is discussed with his contemporaries in works of American cultural radicalism, such as Aaron 1977, Foley 1993, Murphy 1991, Wald 2002 (cited under Biographical Chapters, Memoirs, and Autobiographical Fiction), and Hapke 2001. Of these, Pyros 1979 is the only volume that focuses on Gold’s writing and career. Through his novel Jews Without Money, Gold also has importance in the history of American Jewish novels, especially autobiographical novels. However, these two strands in Gold criticism do not always take each other into account. As Gold plays a prominent role in books that discuss proletarian literature or Jewish literature in the United States, his mention in such volumes is too numerous to list here. A few, but by no means all, of books on the literary left are offered in this entry—for in a bibliography on Gold one could hardly leave out Foley 1993 or Murphy 1991, for their examinations of proletarian fiction and Gold’s role in the history of the genre.

  • Aaron, Daniel. Writers on the Left. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

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    A groundbreaking work about the literary left in the United States, Aaron’s book remains a readable and informative introduction, despite a focus on a number of male writers centered in New York (for which the book has received some criticism). Gold is mentioned often throughout the volume in relation to the rise and decline of the literary left, and Aaron devotes a chapter to the life and work of Gold. This is a good source for students and general readers.

  • Foley, Barbara. Radical Representations: Politics and Form in U.S. Proletarian Fiction, 1929–1941. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993.

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    This study describes how Gold and his contemporaries defined proletarian fiction and is essential for anyone examining the idea of the proletarian novel in the United States, including Gold’s role. There is a short section devoted to Gold in the chapter on “Fictional Autobiography” that compares Gold’s Jews Without Money with Jack Conroy’s The Disinherited, Isidor Schneider’s From the Kingdom of Necessity, and Agnes Smedley’s Daughter of Earth.

  • Hapke, Laura. Labor’s Text: The Worker in American Fiction. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001.

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    Like Foley, Hapke has a discussion in a much broader work that covers American literature over two hundred years. There is a brief but insightful discussion of fathers and sons in the work of Gold and Jack Conroy.

  • Murphy, James. The Proletarian Moment: The Controversy over Leftism in Literature. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.

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    Murphy investigates the nature and criticism of proletarian fiction in the 1930s. His analysis of the aesthetic positions of the writers of the New Masses, including Gold, challenges the commonly accepted judgment that Gold and his colleagues were simply party hacks. He notes that one has to piece together Gold’s critical ideas from articles that do not offer an overall theory. The pages in which he attempts to offer a theory for Gold from his articles are essential.

  • Pyros, John. Mike Gold, Dean of American Proletarian Writers. New York: Dramatika, 1979.

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    This book on Mike Gold’s life and works includes a brief biography and a summary and discussion of all his major works. The bibliography contains a useful list of contemporary reviews and other articles about Gold to the date of publication. The discussion is more useful for high school and perhaps early college students, but it is the only place to find basic information about Gold.

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