ABSTRACT: Shades of New York in Algren’s Chicago. Many critics and readers regard Nelson Algren’s Chicago: City on the Make as “the best book about Chicago.” Fifty years after its initial publication, the essay continues to win praise for capturing the essence of the city. This thesis examines the symbolic and structural elements within the text that have produced those impressions in readers. It refutes the usual explanations—that Algren captures an essential Chicago that exists outside of time, or that Algren captures a real Chicago that existed in history—as mystical or impossible, and shows instead how Algren builds a convincing textual city through complex systems of reference to prior literary depictions. Chief among Algren’s source texts is Carl Sandburg’s poem “Chicago,” a textual portrait that has defined the city since 1914. In this poem, Sandburg personifies Chicago as a series of character types: a worker with big shoulders, a laughing fighter, a tall, bold slugger. Algren fleshes out these characters, filling his essay with big shoulders, laughing fighters, and bold sluggers. Because they connect to Sandburg’s personifications of Chicago, Algren’s characters stand in for the city as a whole; their actions reveal not only their individual character but the urban character of the city. But Algren’s Chicago also depends on unexpected literary sources, and this thesis presents original research showing that Algren draws upon poetry of New York to paint his picture of Chicago. Algren alters Sandburg’s Chicago through an elaborate system of reference to Ben Maddow’s 1940 poem of New York, “The City,” and Algren’s controlling metaphor follows the literary ethic of another New York poet: Walt Whitman.




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