A striking feature of American fiction since 1940 is the movement on all fronts from the margins to the centre. African American, Southern and Jewish writers emerge as major talents, as signalized by the belated critical recognition of Faulkner and the immediate impact of Bellow, crowned by their respective Nobel Prizes. And in a poll of professors of American literature, Invisible Man by the African American writer Ralph Ellison was most often named as the most important American novel since 1945.1
Stylistically we see an initial continuity of the dominant modes of the 1920s and 1930s, traditional realism, naturalistic social protest, and a symbolically inflected modernist poetic realism. Increasingly, however, the symbolism begins to displace the realism as traditional images of self and society diminish in the face of imperializing discourses of mass media and the social sciences (as Americans term such disciplines as sociology, psychology and anthropology) that reduce the contemporary self to a package, explanatory labels attached. In the 1960s postmodernist writers turn this discourse back on itself although their parodies of sociological and bureaucratic language very nearly concede the loss of substantial human values which such language reflects.