Corkin traces the entrance of the United States into the modern age by considering the historical dimension of cinema and literary aesthetics: first of realism, then naturalism, and finally modernism. He begins with the work of writer William Dean Howells and the advent of American cinema under the stewardship of Thomas Edison, arguing that realism was complexly involved in Progressive political and economic reform. Next, analyses of Theodore Dreiser's novel Sister Carrie and the films of the Edison Company's star director, Edwin S. Porter, detail the relationships of naturalism to the increasingly abstract presentation of the material commodity through mass marketing. The study culminates with an examination of the parallels between Ernest Hemingway's In Our Time and the D. W. Griffith film The Birth of a Nation. These two modernist works, Corkin contends, illustrate strategies of expression that attempt to move the material commodity away from its economic base and into a pristine, apolitical realm. These literary and cinematic works both reflect and participate in the economic, political, and social reorganization of American life from the top down. The result, Corkin concludes, is a world in which a conception of a human being is asserted as differing little from that of a machine, a tree, or an animal.
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