Combining Research Approaches: The Anvil Writers Revisited
***** SANDERS & MORRIS ***** EJC/REC Vol. 1, No. 1, 1990 ***
COMBINING RESEARCH APPROACHES: THE ANVIL WRITERS REVISITED
Keith P. Sanders
University of Missouri-Columbia
Daniel N. Morris
Boise State University
Abstract. Q method is conjoined with the
interviewing techniques of the oral historian in a
study of eight surviving contributors to THE
ANVIL, a Midwestern proletarian literary magazine
of the 1920s and '30s. N=38 statements were drawn
from a variety of leftwing sources of the 1930s,
and then administered as Q sorts under seven
conditions of instruction -- your view today, as
it was just prior to the 1935 New York Writers
Congress, et al. -- designed to cover various
theoretical positions. n=46 Q sorts were
completed, resulting in four factors labeled the
Patron, the Revolutionary Artist, the Jack Conroy
factor, and the Humanist. Discussion focuses on
the limitations and advantages of Q in the study
of oral history.
UNE ASSOCIATION DE METHODES. RETOUR SUR LES
AUTEURS DE "THE ANVIL". La Methode Q est ici
associee aux techniques d'entrevue de l'histoire
orale pour l'etude du cas de huit collaborateurs
encore vivants de THE ANVIL, un periodique
litteraire proletarien du Midwest des annees 1920
et 1930. Trente-huit enonces sont tires de
diverses sources de la gauche des annees 1930.
Ceux-ci sont ensuite consideres comme des groupes
de type Q en utilisant sept conditions destinees a
representer diverses positions theoriques (votre
pensee aujourd'hui, ce qu'elle etait juste avant
le Congres de 1935 des ecrivains a New-York,
etc.). Quarante-six groupes de type Q furent
constitues. Ils ont produit quatre facteurs
identifies comme le Protecteur, l'Artiste
revolutionnaire, le facteur Jack Conroy et
l'Humaniste. La discussion porte principalement
sur les limites et les avantages de la Methode Q
pour l'etude de l'histoire orale.
The tie that binds Q methodology to so many apparently
disparate scholars is an abiding interest in subjectivity --
internal frames of reference. Interest in people's values,
attitudes, emotions and the like cuts across disciplines and
Q has been widely used to explore them. Among disciplines
with an interest in subjectivity, history is one in which Q
method infrequently has been used. This article explores
the application of Q to historical research, especially oral
In the late 1920s and through most of the 1930s, the
Communist Party encouraged proletarian novelists and poets,
most of them sympathetic to the aims of the Party, in their
efforts to chronicle the daily struggles of working class
men and women. The party established John Reed clubs
throughout the United States as writers' forums and
sponsored magazines in which to publish their work. Among
the major outlets for the writers were the Party-sponsored
PARTISAN REVIEW, the favorite of the so-called "New York
Intellectuals," and THE ANVIL, a proletarian poetry and
short story magazine published independently in Moberly,
Missouri, by Jack Conroy, author of THE DISINHERITED. A
merger of the two in 1936, the result of pressure from the
New York group, lasted less than a year and produced only
six issues. Although the PARTISAN REVIEW reappeared later,
the demise of the magazines marked a turning point for many
of the writers.
Disillusionment hit some. Having been encouraged to
chronicle the failings of capitalistic society and been
rewarded by praise at John Reed Club locals and publication
in Party or Party-related magazines, they were ill-prepared
to deal with the decision -- in line with the new Popular
Front -- at the 1935 American Writers' Conference to replace
the John Reed Clubs with the less politically-strident
League of American Writers. The League favored well-known
writers and abandoned several of the lesser-known but
politically pure writers. Lacking encouragement, many
devoted their energies to earning money to support their
families instead of to championing ideology or art. Several
had their careers more forcefully closed by being
blacklisted, which kept them from potentially lucrative
careers in book and magazine publishing or screen writing.
The proletarian writers were more than reformers. They
felt a strong threat in the form of Nazi, Italian and
fledgling American fascism. They found inspiration in the
new socialist state in the Soviet Union, but they feared the
experiment would be crushed. Although individualistic
artists for the most part, they banded together under the
discipline of a party that seemed to have the answers to
these and other problems.
Scholarly interest in this "lost" generation of writers
has been revived in the past decade (Kempf, 1985; Rampersad,
1986; Schleuning, 1983; Adams, 1980; Klehr, 1984; Phillips,
1983; Saltzman & Ray, 1979). This study adds to that
revival by examining the relationship among Midwestern
contributors to THE ANVIL, East Coast contributors and
literary leaders of the Communist Party in New York, many of
whom were not contributors to the magazine. Although THE
ANVIL is worthy of study in and of itself, the fact that it
was published in a town only 30 miles from the researchers'
campus and that its founder still lived there made the study
even more compelling, particularly because of Conroy's
willingness to be a guinea pig for some different
methodological approaches to history.
Much of the discussion of the impact of THE ANVIL and
other proletarian literature was stifled by the suppression
of the Left following World War II. It was disparaged in
college classrooms; the so-called "conversion novels" and
short stories were criticized as propaganda. Writers and
editors who espoused "art for humanity's sake" long had lost
the battle to those who supported "art for art's sake." A
history of THE ANVIL, therefore, is complicated by the fact
that many key writers had moved on to new literary and
political pastures. Those living are in their 80s and many
of them find themselves in the position of Kenneth Burke,
who declined to grant an interview, saying he had written
his account of the period years ago, had only a few years to
live, and had no hopes of finishing the literary projects
that currently interested him, let alone the researchers'.
Historians approach a research problem in a variety of
ways. Among the most common approaches in historiography is
to gather and compare memoirs of the Great Men and Women and
ascribe to them the role of causal agents in shaping events.
Nord (1989, p. 308) suggests that journalism historians have
tended to elevate the Great Man/Woman approach: "The old
sacred scripture of journalism history, like holy writ in
most fields, is hagiography. The saints are James Gordon
Bennett, Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, and other
Great Men who helped to build Great Institutions." Cultural
historians look at the way people live and entertain
themselves and at the dominant ideology to illustrate the
themes that define and propel a society. Progressive
historians look at crucial moments that determine in which
direction a society will evolve. Marxist historians look at
economic forces, technological change and class conflict to
explain why societies changed and to predict their future.
il5 This study sought, by combining Q method with the
interviewing techniques of the oral historian, to cut across
these historical disciplines. It examined the attitudes of
the Great Men and Women. It examined what these writers
thought of each other, and what they thought the others
thought of them. It looked at how those attitudes changed
after the events of more than 50 years and at what the
writers now think would have been the ideal attitudes to
have had in the 1930s. It looked at art as propaganda, but
it also examined the subjects' attitudes about art as part
of culture. The subjects were in the political minority,
but from their criticisms one can develop a clearer picture
of what the larger society was like.
The application of a quantitative approach to the study
of history is hardly new. Nord argues, "Implicit
quantification has always pervaded every historical work,
disguised by such words as 'more' or 'less,' 'increasing' or
'decreasing.' Furthermore, historians were once leaders in
the use of explicitly quantitative methods" (Nord, 1989, p.
302). Beginning toward the end of the nineteenth century,
quantitative history lost favor and continued in decline
until the 1960s it exploded into a "lust to quantify"
(Aydelotte, 1971; cf. Stone, 1981; Murphey, 1973; Bogue,
1983, 1986; Kammen, 1980; Fogel, 1975; Carey, 1974).
But quantification in history is not the real issue.
Smith argues that it raises a false dichotomy: "The question
is not whether one will choose quantification or
nonquantification, but whether one will succumb to random
note taking instead of applying system and rigor to data
gathering. The choice is between impressionistic and
empirical history" (1989, p. 316). The dichotomy is beside
the point, as Dollar and Jensen (1971) observe: "Almost any
attribute that people, events, or institutions possess can
be quantified in one way or another. When the data are of
poor quality ... quantification won't work, but hardly
anything else will either."
The question to be asked is not whether to quantify but
rather whether a different approach than that traditionally
used by oral historians might provide additional information
-- different in kind rather than amount. In short, could
the use of Q methodology provide the oral historian with new
insights, new discoveries?
"To justify a methodological incursion," Brown advised,
"... it is necessary to illustrate new worthwhile directions
or promising approaches to old issues" (1980, p. 1).
Applying Brown's caveat, one could anticipate several
advantages of Q methodology in such studies. A primary
advantage would be the introduction of a systematic way to
deal with the writers' subjectivity -- their attitudes,
feelings, values and the like.
When traditional historians rediscovered quantification
in the 1950s and 1960s, they used it to measure objective
"things," such as possessions or legal relationships. A
1963 study of social and economic attributes and voting
preference in antebellum Alabama (Alexander et al., 1963) is
a good example. The study contradicts the earlier held
belief that the Democratic Party was the party of poverty
and the masses and that the Whigs were the party of
property. Swierenga (1970) lists 10 historians who used
roll-call vote analysis in historical studies between 1958
and 1967. In journalism history, Dyer (1980) has been among
the most prolific of the recent scholars to use quantitative
methods. She, too, however, measures "things" to get a
picture of an earlier period. She used census records of
belongings of 19th century printers, for example, to suggest
that they were not itinerant tramps, as scholars previously
had assumed, but entrepreneurs who sometimes were dependent
on local investors. The emphasis in such approaches is on
objectivity; that is, with the determination of the truth or
falsity of facts. The use of Q would, in Stephenson's
terms, "...put emphasis on discovery and upon the use of
laws, theory and instrumentation to reach understandings,
not facts, by preceding from concrete situations to
interpretations and explanations which are subjective to the
proponent of knowledge" (1986, p. 38). Indeed, the
foundation for the application of Q methodology for modern
oral historians was laid in 1938, Sharpless argues, when
Nevins in THE GATEWAY TO HEAVEN encouraged oral historians
to "accept the subjectivity of human memory by incorporating
first-hand recollections into their research" (Sharpless,
Another justification for an incursion of Q method into
the oral historian's world is to lessen the role of the
investigator. Much previous work in this and other fields,
Brown suggests, "...has stressed the external standpoint of
the investigator, i.e., has begun with his vision of his
world according to which all else has been measured.
Theories have been entertained by the investigator,
consequences have been hypothetically explicated by him,
relevant categories have been conceived..." (1980, p. 1).
Additional justifications for the use of Q method in
oral history were made by Sharpless (1986) in a study of
attitudes toward urban rewewal in Waco, Texas. Historians,
she suggests, may carry over from the social sciences doubts
about the validity of oral history because oral findings
cannot be replicated. Sharpless suggests that, although
this may not bother humanistic scholars, for social
scientists oral history's "lack of methodological rigor" may
raise serious questions about its worth. Q technique, she
argues, seems ideally suited to oral history. Brown's
conclusion is similar: "Although their methodologies have
diverged markedly since then (19th century), historians and
social scientists remain interested in the same topic:
humankind and the human environment. Perhaps more than any
other academic discipline, history stands on the boundary
between the humanities and the social sciences" (1977, p.
Of issue in Sharpless' and the present study, was how
research methodologies affect the essential qualities of
responses. Attitudes suggested in the Q sorts, and the
factor analysis of them, may differ from impressions
presented in oral history interviews. By his/her mere
participation in the process, the researcher may contaminate
the interview. The dialog between the subject and the
interviewer is valuable in itself, but it is important to
understand the dynamics of the process before drawing
conclusions from it.
Much, of course, already was known about the role of
literature in the U.S. Communist Party's activities of the
era. Several histories and biographies had been written.
The artists' published works are available for analysis.
Indeed, enough was known that it might be argued that
further documentary historiography held little promise for
increasing either knowledge or understanding of the topic.
A return to primary sources -- the writers themselves --
using the tools of an oral historian seemed much more
Thus, the primary method used was the focused
interview, the standby of oral historians. Interviews
lasted as many as several days (and over several weeks, in
Conroy's case). Q methodology was used as a supplement.
Subjects were asked to perform several Q sorts (by which
they indicated their relative agreement or disagreement with
a set of opinion statements). The Q sorts were correlated
and factor anlayzed (using principal components factoring
and varimax rotation), producing hypothetical "types" of
persons. Those not familiar with Q methodology are directed
to Stephenson (1953), McKeown and Thomas (1988) and Brown
Eight contributors to THE ANVIL performed as many as
seven Q sorts. Six of the subjects sorted across all seven
conditions and a total of 46 sorts were completed.
The Persons Sample
A primary consideration in deciding which writers to
choose was a supposed geographically-based ideology.
Analysts and historians during THE ANVIL's publication and
since have ascribed more differences than similarities to
the East Coast and Midwestern leftists. Members of the East
Coast group, based in New York, were seen as essentially
European-style Marxists. The Midwesterners were seen as
Communists and fellow travelers who had emerged from the
agrarian roots of the Populist Movement and Debs' Socialist
Party. By the 1930s, the Socialist Party was still a strong
force, both in the East and the Midwest, but the writers
around Conroy's ANVIL were closer to the Communists than to
the Socialist Party. Because of this split, the P sample
included subjects who could be identified as either East
Coast or Midwestern. Another, lesser consideration in the
selection was to opt, when convenient, for less-studied
writers on the reasoning that they (in their responses) and
we (in our interpretations) might be less inhibited by --
and, thus, less categorical about -- the "historical
The subjects included ANVIL editor-founder Conroy,
Warren Huddlestone, Meridel Le Sueur, Joseph Vogel, A.B.
Magil, Morris Schappes, Malcolm Cowley, Max Gordon and
George Houston Bass, who performed a second-order Q sort as
he thought the late Langston Hughes would have sorted
shortly before his death in the 1960s. Bass was Hughes'
literary protege and live-in secretary. Conroy, Huddlestone
and Le Sueur were the Midwestern representatives. Three
ANVIL contributors considered for selection died before the
study could get underway. All of the subjects were in their
80s when they sorted. Thumbnail sketches of the subjects
are at the end of the article.
The Q Sample
The opinion statements were selected from a concourse
of more than 200 obtained from THE ANVIL, NEW MASSES,
speeches and writings of F.D. Roosevelt, speeches made at
the 1935 Writers Congress, interviews, books by leftists
writing in the 1930s and from secondary sources. Study of
the concourse suggested five categories of statements:
Economics, Political, General Communication, Ideological,
and Individual/Identity. Thirty-eight statements were
chosen more-or-less at random to represent the five
categories. Most of the statements are presented, along
with factor standard scores, in Table 2.
Conditions of Instruction
The interviews yielded oft-repeated stories, polished,
enhanced and made more interesting over the years. It was
hoped that the use of Q technique might "jar" the subjects'
senses and get them to think freshly about their experiences
instead of merely repeating pat answers. To that end, and
keeping in mind that the primary interest was about a period
more than 50 years old, a list of different conditions of
instruction was compiled, from which seven were selected.
Sort these statements according to how much you agree
or disagree with them as ...
1. yourself today
2. yourself as you think you would have sorted a few
months prior to the 1935 New York Writers Congress
3. as you think a member of the New York Communist
Party literary apparatus would have sorted prior to
the 1936 Congress
4. as you think a self-identified New Deal Democrat
would have sorted in 1935
5. as an artist interested in art purely for art's
sake would have sorted
6. as you would have sorted ideally prior to the 1935
Congress if you knew then what you know now
7. as you would have sorted in 1935 if you could have
separated yourself from political and peer
considerations and had sorted solely from the point
of view of gratifying your own ego.
All but Cowley, Gordon and Bass/Hughes completed sorts
for all conditions of instruction. The average sort took
only 15-20 minutes to complete, particularly after the
subjects became familiar with the statements. Nonetheless,
subjects almost always needed rest breaks after every two or
three sorts and in most cases it took more than one day to
complete the process.
Given the heuristic goals of the study, factor analysis
of the 46 Q sorts proceeded along exploratory lines. The
nature of Q factor interpretations varies depending on
whether several subjects sort under one condition of
instruction or whether a few sort under multiple conditions
of instruction (Stephenson, 1988, has labelled the two
approaches PA and PE). In the former, the interpretation
concentrates on an exposition of the nature of each factor,
e.g., what is the factor's attitude? In the latter, the
interpretation concentrates on the structure of the factor
matrix, e.g., what conditions of instruction factor together
and why. The present study, a combination of the
approaches, performed both types of interpretations, but
neither in as much depth as normally would be done. Space
does not permit presentation of a "typical interpretation"
(see Morris, 1988, for a full analysis).
Two sets of factors were produced and interpreted. A
preliminary analysis extracted all factors (seven) with
eigenvalues greater than 1.00. Two factors were eliminated
because too few sorts loaded on them. Conroy's factor
loadings (particularly as himself now and as in 1935) were
examined first because as editor he more than anyone else
set the ideological trend of THE ANVIL. Purposive factor
rotations using Conroy's sorts as references for vector
placements were conducted but abandoned in favor of varimax
rotations, which provided a clearer factor structure.
Analysis of Conroy's sorts, aided by and consistent
with observations obtained in the interviews, suggested that
his somewhat confounded loadings on the "Self Today"
instruction (.570 on Factor II and .490 on Factor IV), the
"New Deal" instruction (.461 on II and .500 on IV) and the
"Ideal with Hindsight" instruction (.472 on II and .375 on
IV) were evidence of his ability as editor to bridge the
Midwest regional "arts for art's sake" and "art for
politic's sake" ideologies of his 1930s ANVIL cohorts. This
was the first example of a hoped-for result of the
application of Q method to oral history: a synthesis of
insights from quantitative, qualitative and interview data.
By looking at the sorting patterns over the conditions
of instructions one gains insights into how the subjects
think they have changed over 50 years, whether their views
are closer to those of their geo-political counterparts
(i.e., Easterners vs. Midwesterners) than they think they
are, and how similar are their ideal-self and actual-self
reports. Interpretation of the five factors suggested these
descriptive labels of the inherent attitudes: Earth Mother:
The Midwestern Feminine Optimist, The Philosophical
Anarchist, Hoosier Hud, The Pessimist and The Party Liner.
A discussion of those factors is excluded here in favor of
one about a four factor solution, which proved to be much
A Four Factor Solution
Based on the analysis of the five factor solution, a
four factor solution was extracted. The resulting matrix,
after Varimax rotation, resulted in a sharply clearer
picture of the subjects (see Table 1). Of special interest
was the emergence of a "Conroy Factor" -- six of his sorts
were saturated there, along with Schappes' Ideal/Hindsight
sort. Brief summaries of the factors follow. Table 2
contains the most strongly agreed/disagreed with statements.
Table 1. Factor Identification
The Revolut. The
Patron Artist Conroy Humanist
Conroy today .681
in 1935 .692
as East Coast Comm -.704
as New Deal Dem. .544
as Pure Artist .615
Ideal w/Hindsight .535
For Ego Gratif. .495
Huddlestone today .680
in 1935 .516
as East Coast Comm -.691
as New Deal Dem. .465
as Pure Artist .455
Ideal w/Hindsight .736
for Ego Gratif. .473
Le Sueur today -.405 .469
in 1935 *
as East Coast Comm -.538
as New Deal Dem. .455
as Pure Artist .690
Ideal w/Hindsight -.576
for Ego Gratif. .446
Vogel today .700
in 1935 -.436
as East Coast Comm -.671
as New Deal Dem. .689
as Pure Artist .464
Ideal w/Hindsight .569
for Ego Gratif. .694
Magil today .824
in 1935 -.532 .592
as East Coast Comm .572
as New Deal Dem. .511
as Pure Artist .558
Ideal w/Hindsight .768
for Ego Gratif. .607
Schappes today .605
in 1935 -.508 .535
as East Coast Comm *
as New Deal Dem. .594
as Pure Artist .505
Ideal w/Hindsight .638
for Ego Gratif. .657
Cowley today .626
Gordon today .725
in 1935 -.637
*indicates sort with no significant factor loadings
Factor correlations: I-II=.056; I-III=.405; I-IV=.268;
II-III=.343; II-IV=.525; III-IV=.247
The Patron. Huddlestone and the sorts as New Dealers
and proponents of Art for Art's Sake by several subjects
were identified with this factor. The sentiment behind this
factor is similar to that a Leonardo da Vinci might have had
for the Medicis. A New Deal government might provide a
livelihood for an artist, but the artist was expected to
work for the sake of aesthetics, not for a political
purpose. Conroy, Huddlestone, Le Sueur and Vogel had
significant negative loadings on this factor when they
sorted under the instruction of thinking as a member of the
Communist Party hierarchy in New York during the 1930s.
Most-agreed-with statements (nos. 25, 34, 30) were
consistent with an art isolated from human interaction,
eschewing leftist politics and dependent on the benevolence
of a culture-minded reform government or millionaire
patrons. A Communist revolution would threaten the wealth
of the patrons or place the artists' support in the hands of
the uncultured masses.
Table 2. Item Descriptions: Four Factor Solution
I II III IV
Q Statement Standard (Z) Scores
2. Do what we may to inject 0.8 0.8 0.7 1.9
health into our ailing
economic order, we cannot
make it endure for long
unless we bring about a
wiser, more equitable
distribution of the
3. No proletarian worker on the -0.4 -1.5 -1.2 -0.2
face of the earth is more
shamefully and deceitfully
exploited than is a poet in
any capitalist country.
4. We should be true to 1.2 0.3 1.2 1.3
our own principles. Politics
should not represent the
compromise of integrity for
the sake of a cause;it should
be a science for making
rational, moral choices.
7. There is an almost unbear- 0.4 -0.7 -0.6 1.7
able sense of sprouting, of
bursting encasements, of
moving kernels, expanding
flesh... Perhaps it is some-
thing like that that makes
a new world.
8. Only working class themes -1.9 -1.7 -2.1 -1.9
have any contemporary
9. What is taking place in -2.0 0.2 -0.5 -0.2
Russia is the most precious
social event, the most
precious social life,of
our crucial epoch.
10. In addition to its promise -1.4 1.1 -0.5 0.6
to cure economic disorders,
Marxism is able to answer
questions which American
writers have long been
asking about the social
role of the intellectual.
11. It is well within the 1.3 1.8 0.9 2.5
capacity of man,
who has built up this great
social and economic machine
capable of satisfying the
wants of all,to insure that
all who are willing and able
to work receive from it at
least the necessities of life.
13. Political writing should 0.1 0.3 0.5 1.5
should articulate reality--that
reality where thought and
feeling are one, where
objective and subjective
are one, where speaker and
listener are one, where sound
and sense are one.
14. Under the pretext of fighting 0.3 1.9 1.6 -0.3
Communism, the fascist govern-
ments have destroyed democracy
16. I don't like labels. I am 0.5 -2.1 1.1 -1.1
probably more of a philo-
sophical anarchist than
18. The history of all hitherto -1.3 1.8 -1.3 0.0
existing society is the
history of class struggles.
19. Capitalism retards the -1.4 0.5 0.8 0.5
development of culture today.
21. We need a new literature 0.3 0.7 1.3 0.7
attract a new, wider audience.
22. The works of too many 0.0 0.3 1.1 -0.7
contemporary writers are
imbued with a false conception
of working-class life and
what really matters to a
worker--what is important and
vital to him.
23. Before we can consider the 0.2 0.9 1.5 0.6
reorganization of society
along more human and
civilized lines than
capitalism can offer today,
fascism must be destroyed.
25. It's a good idea not to 2.0 -0.2 0.5 0.2
expect too much from humanity.
26. I think we are on courses 1.1 -0.7 1.1 -2.4
that are going to destroy
the human race.
27. The generation to which we 1.0 1.5 0.7 0.3
belong is a peculiar and
28. The masses must be taken 1.1 -0.8 0.0 -1.1
as they are, and not as we
should like to have them.
29. The worker feels himself 0.0 0.5 -1.5 0.8
outside his work and, in his
work, outside himself. In it,
he does not feel content, but
unhappy, does not develop
freely his physical and mental
energy but mortifies his body
and ruins his mind.
30. If you cannot control your 1.3 0.7 -0.7 0.6
own economic existence, you
cannot live for long, except
with the tolerance of others.
33. Only a genuine proletarian -1.1 -1.5 -2.0 -1.1
--someone who has worked with
the hands and thus had a worm's
eyeview of the class struggle
--can write proletarian lit-
34. The Communist party is a bad 1.3 -0.8 -1.5 -1.1
influence in the U.S.S.R.
organizationally and ideo-
35. I don't want to do anything 0.1 -1.5 0.2 -0.4
that in any way could be
considered wrong. I have a
terrific desire to belong.
37. There has to be a special 0.0 0.7 1.6 0.5
accommodation among the
farmer, the industrial
worker, the brain worker, the
writer and the artist if a
more humanistic society is
* Table 2 contains only the five most-agreed-with and
five most-disagreed-with statements for each factor.
The Revolutionary Artist. This factor is consistent
with the Party's 1930s support for politicized art, or "art
for humanity's sake." Five sorts from Magil (Today, East
Coast Communist, Ideal With Hindsight, Pure Artist and Ego/
Self) and Gordon Today belonged to this factor. Interviews
suggested that Gordon was more interested in political
action in the 1930s than in aesthetics. Understandably,
Magil, a leader in efforts to use art politically, sorted
similar to Gordon on the 1935 instruction. The confoundness
of Magil's 1935 sort between the Patron and Revolutionary
Artist factors indicates he may have been uncomfortable
making artists such as Wheelwright conform to the Party
line. This factor suggests a severe emotional dilemma for
Party intellectual leaders such as Gordon and Magil. They
were independent personalities who in "normal times" might
not have submitted themselves to the ideological
constrictions of the Party but who were willing to do so in
the face of facism. By cooperating with other
revolutionaries and ultimately with members of a socialist
society, the Revolutionary Artist could, in theory, obtain
the security to pursue his individualist art. In the
interim, however, he must subject his art to the needs of
the revolution. When it became clear to a Revolutionary
Artist that a Communist revolution in the U.S. was not a
first on the agenda of the Party Leadership, a Revolutionary
Artist could be expected to leave the Party ... and Gordon
and Magil did just that in the 1950s.
Conroy. Only Conroy's East Coast Communist sort failed
to saturate on this factor (it was negatively loaded on the
Revolutionary Artist factor), which was predictable given
his opinion that East Coast Communists were opposite to New
Dealers. "His" factor is most closely related to The
Patron. A deep affection for the working class, a
commitment to philosophical principles and a fear of facism
dominate. He grieves that contemporary writers fail to
understand workers and work. Always, this self-described
"philosophical anarchist" is, as he argues all writers
should be, true to his principles.
The Humanist. This factor represents the yearning,
common to idealists and highlighted during the Depression,
for a more just, bountiful, democratic, familial world in
the face of selfishness, hunger, fascism and the apparent
cold inhumanity of an economic system based on the profit
motive. On this factor were Huddlestone (Today,
Ideal/Hindsight and Ego/Self), Le Sueur (Ego/Self), Magil
(New Dealer) and Hughes. For The Humanist, the policies of
the New Deal eventually seemed more reliable, and more
effective, than the Communists' promises. The factor
expresses optimism and the insistence that political dogma
be clearly related to people. The most-agree statements
indicate a hope and high priority for societal improvement
along the socialist model, tied to a uniquely American and
agrarian form ("sprouting," "bursting encasements") and the
most-disagree statements indicate a willingness to
compromise between art and politics, to at least tolerate
the discipline of the Party and to listen to the masses
rather than to dictate to them.
The study had two objectives: adding to the body of
knowledge about the writers around Conroy's ANVIL and
testing the value of Q methodology to oral historians. To
our knowledge, Q has been used only once before in a major
oral history study: Sharpless (1986) used the method, after
the fact, to crosscheck the validity of selected oral
history interviews about urban renewal. Did Q method add to
the oral history effort? Yes, in both predictable and
unpredictable ways. By no means was the experiment an
The Q factors are, a priori, valuable and unique
additions to the oral history effort. One of the major
issues involved in a study of proletarian writers is that
over art-for-art's sake vs. art-for-politic's sake. Those
who chose politics over art faced major risks and the Q data
definitely were helpful in guiding the researchers to a
better understanding of the writers' choices. But the
interpretations of the Q factors provided many additional
insights that had not previously been made (or supported).
For example, it becomes clear that Conroy's ability to
bridge the art-for-art's sake vs. art-for-politic's sake
split was central to his success in dealing with his
Midwestern contemporaries. It is seen more clearly how
"Revolutionary Artists," such as Gordon and Magil, come to
suffer inner turmoil: to further the revolution, they must
internalize ideology with which they basically are in
conflict, if such policy is dictated from above. Some
myths, or preconceptions, were shattered. For example,
regionalism appears to have been far less important than
previous research -- and the conventional wisdom of the era
By looking at structure created by the different
conditions of instruction, we have, for the first time, a
direct comparison between the writers (individually and
collectively by East Coast and Midwestern orientations)
about ideological concerns based on a common frame of
reference -- the concourse of 38 statements they sorted.
The process of Q sorting turned out to be a potent
recall-aiding stimulus. As Sharpless found in her study,
the sorting procedure generated observations by the sorters
that most likely would not have been obtained in a
traditional interview. For example, Cowley, one of the most
studied of the era's writers, expressed doubts that he could
say anything new and valuable about the 1930s. Once he
started sorting through the statements, however, strong
emotions rushed back. After the "I don't like labels ...
I'm a philosophical anarchist" statement, he volunteered:
"No, I'm not. I'm a 'little American,' an American patriot
of various regions," and proceeded to explain the evolution
of his defense of literary culture. Vogel, when sorting as
he thought an East Coast Communist would, offered a flood of
comments about the similarities between him and Michael
Gold. A statement about wanting to belong to groups
elicited comments that, "I'm a loner myself. That's a
significant statement." Other statements prompted Vogel's
evaluations of various writers of the 1930s. During one
sort, Gordon said, "We were so thoroughly imbued with the
ideology of the Party that it would be very difficult to
delineate our personal views from those of the Party." Such
volunteered statements provided useful information and also
suggested avenues of questionning in the interview sessions
More generally, the statements apparently helped
sharpen 50-year-old memories. The statements were, as Q
items go, rather abstract and sophisticated. Indeed, the
graduate students and professors who pretested them for
vocabulary and concepts thought they might be too complex.
But the writers, with but one exception, had no difficulty
Finally, in addition to some insights and answers, the
Q approach proved heuristic by producing nearly two dozen
additional research questions.
Although factor analysis confirmed some hypotheses and
generated some new ones, all-in-all it yielded few major
insights INDEPENDENT of the interviews. The addition of one
approach most frequently verified an insight obtained by the
In varying degrees the subjects reacted negatively, or
at best ambivalently, to doing the Q sorts, contrary to the
reaction of most Q subjects, who find the process enjoyable
or intriguing. Some extenuating circumstances may account
for such a reaction. First, the subjects were in their 80s
and tended to tire quickly. Second, the request to perform
Q sorts for seven different conditions of instruction may
have tried their patience. Third, as a group they were very
active and involved in projects and impatient to get on with
them. Fourth, and probably most important, the subjects
were suspicious and skeptical of the technique. This is not
surprising, given their backgrounds. Manipulation by the
capitalist system, by the Communist Party leadership and by
political writers, was a fact of their lives, or so they
thought. Many had lost jobs because of their politics.
Some lost homes and families. As artists, some chafed at
what they considered to be an attempt to categorize them.
Le Sueur said the methodology contradicted one of the main
themes of her life: the attempt to break down labels, to
burst through the limits of description. Huddlestone was at
first suspicious but changed completely by the third day.
He suggested, with future subjects, that the technique be
explained from the first. This, he said, would be
worthwhile even if it prejudiced their sorts somewhat
because suspicion and fear were more biasing than a little
knowledge about the technique. Finally, the combined oral
history-Q method approach proved to be very time-consuming.
The problems of combining oral history and Q method are
not inconsequential. For example, in doing history it
likely will be the rule rather than the exception that the
subjects will be elderly. Careful planning might help
reduce the length of time needed to conduct interviews and
gather Q sorts, but the process will always be
Nonetheless, on balance, the benefits to be gained by
adding Q methodology to the oral historian's repertoire seem
very much to be worth the effort.
Jack Conroy--editor and founder of THE ANVIL and THE REBEL
POET. Small-town Missouri background. In the 20s moved to
Detroit and Toledo, attracted by reports of high wages in
automobile plants. Published THE DISINHERITED in 1933,
which led to a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was toasted as
THE young working-class author. Michael Gold saw Conroy
as a harbinger of a new revolutionary school of writers
who would replace "the tired social democrats" like Carl
Sandburg. Died March,1990.
Meridel Le Sueur. As a youth, left her Minnesota home to try
acting in New York and then Hollywood. Regular writer for
THE DAILY WORKER; later, for THE PARTISAN REVIEW, NEW
MASSES, AMERICAN MERCURY, PAGANY, SCRIBNERS, THE ANVIL.
Joined Communist Party and became a leading voice in left
literature. Wrote SALUTE TO SPRING and NORTH STAR
COUNTRY. Blacklisted in McCarty era. Rediscovered
during the 60s by student radicals andfeminists. Received
1984 Wonder Woman Foundation grant.
Warren Huddlestone. Sometime contributor to THE ANVIL and
other literary magazines within Communist Party orbit
during the 1930s. A leader of the party in Indiana at
that time. Now anti-Communist.
Joseph Vogel. Proletarian novelist and ANVIL contributor.
New Yorker. Friend of several writers, including Erskine
Caldwell and Nelson Algren. Was completing a novel about
prison life during the study. Taught English five years
at Ohio State. Well known for his art and calligraphy.
A.B. Magil. Literary editor of the DAILY WORKER, the
lasteditor of NEW MASSES, and associate editor of its
successor, MASSES AND MAINSTREAM. Until the late 1950s,
his only employer had been the Communist Party. From
lower middle-class Jewish family in Philadelphia.
Morris Schappes. Mentor of young Communists at City College
(New York) during the 20s-30s, Yiddish historian and
editor today. Born in Ukraine. Fired from teaching
position because of "subversive" activities. First book
was SELECTIONS FROM THE PROSE AND POETRY OF EMMA LAZARUS,
the poet whose sonnet is printed on the Statue of
Liberty. Wrote a book of political letters and a history
while in prison: LETTERS FROM THE TOMBS and A
DOCUMENTARY HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN THE UNITED STATES. A
founder of JEWISH CURRENTS in 1946 (and editor since
1958), which began as a Marxist, pro-Soviet journal.
Max Gordon. One of Schappes' students. Upstate New York
Party organizer in 30s. On board of JEWISH CURRENTS.
Worked for the DAILY WORKER. Left Party in 1958, along
with Schappes and Magil.
Langston Hughes. Arguably the best-known American black
poet and playwrite. His best known poems, "The Negro
Speaks of Rivers" and "The Weary Blues," are included in
most black and many general American poetry anthologies.
MULATTO enjoyed the longest Broadway run of a play
written by a black. George Houston Bass, theater
professor at Brown University, Hughes' literary protege
and live-in secretary (and later estate trustee),sorted
as he thought Hughes would have sorted just before his
death in the early 60s.
Malcolm Cowley. Literary editor of THE NEW REPUBLIC. Books:
EXILE'S RETURN: A NARRATIVE OF IDEAS and BLUE JUANITA.
Generally recognized as the first critic to describe the
influence of modern aesthetics and cultural ideas on the
work and lives of American artists of the first half of
the twentieth century. A founding member of the League
of American Writers, an organization in the mid 1930s
inspired by Communist Party literary leaders.
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Keith P. Sanders is in the School of Journalism,
University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65205, U.S.A. (Bitnet
JOURWH@UMCVMB). Daniel N. Morris is in the Department of
Communication, Boise State University, Boise, ID 83725,
U.S.A. (Bitnet RCNMORRI@IDBSU).
Communication Institute for Online Scholarship, Inc.