The business of America may be business, but the business of American literature in the past century has been largely to insist that the nation is, in pursuing business, wasting itself on unworthy objects. In the eyes of most novelists and playwrights who deal with the subject, business is not an honorable vocation, but rather an obsessive scramble for lucre and status. Tycoons are plunderers. Salesmen are poor slobs truckling to their bosses, though most of them aspire to be cormorants and highwaymen, too. The mass desire to strike it rich has launched a forced march to nowhere. In short, American literature hates American business for what it has done to the souls of the rich, the poor, and the middling alike.But the big question is, How is it our culture came to hold the image of the businessman that it now does? Valiunas gives his answer.
Right-thinking people now take it for granted that, in criticizing business, American literature has saved (or at least elevated) the nation's soul. But after a century of slander, that assumption needs revisiting.
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