In the novel US! Chris Bachelder takes a satirical look at the endless optimism of the American left. Just when it seems that all is lost, that America is too welded to its unfair capitalist society to ever change, the Left is able to resurrect Upton Sinclair, the socialist crusader of the early 1900’s who almost won his bid for the California governorship, to lead the movement. Sinclair is utilized by the Left for his impractical willingness to stand up for values when it is the most dangerous. Even after repeated assassinations, this zombified zealot is able to return, deluded by his blind faith of imminent social and economic change.
I had never heard of Sinclair or read any of his novels before this class. However it is easy to see how this political novel fits into our discussion of melodrama. In literary naturalism, the form of literature most preferred by Sinclair, novel writing is viewed as a social experiment dedicated to depicting typical life in different parts of the world. Sinclair used naturalism to push his own political agenda. Authors often utilize pathos in melodrama to push a political agenda as well. Melodramatic rhetoric can be used to create a moral imperative in the audience to act, feel, or think a certain way. By ignoring complexity, melodrama boils conflict down into the good versus the bad. Both naturalism and melodrama can be utilized to serve a political purpose.
More specifically, in naturalism, the characters are not viewed as individuals, but are rather meant to represent a group. Although melodramas usually focus on one individual, the victim-hero, he is often combating an individual that represents a larger group: the greedy, heartless capitalist. Both forms of literature use stereotyping to increase the power of their political messages. Bachelder uses some of this technique in his novel, making Huntley and Sinclair’s other assassinators representative of the hysterical right wing, while the narrator embodies the young, energetic followers of socialism, who not only “wanted to be class heroes” but also long for the sixties and “to get laid by our beautiful, serious, kerchiefed comrades” (5). They resurrect Sinclair for a chance to dissuade their anger at missing the sixties and soon become disillusioned by his repeated assassinations.
While Bachelder is clearly a proponent of Sinclair’s politics, he has a lot of fun mocking the liberal icon. Sinclair is constantly writing new books to mobilize the revolution, forever believing that the next one will make a difference. Meanwhile, Bachelder inserts a chapter of customer reviews for Sinclair’s novels; all of them blank save for a few insulting his work. He also acknowledges Sinclair’s unappealing writing “aesthetic: Sinclair has never understood that art and polemic do not mix, that great and lasting art has no authorial agenda” (14). Sinclair writes to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan, in impossible attempts to change the world. While Bachelder acknowledges that the brand of socialism Sinclair preaches may be dead, he also shows respect for the persistent and ever-hopeful members of the Left who are willing to go against the grain and fight for social justice.