Books

Book Review: It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

A satire about the rise of a charismatic leader, Berzelius (Buzz) Windrip, vowing to restore America’s prosperity and greatness under the economic and political turmoil. You only have to promise money and glory and package them into catchy slogans, and fascism sneaks into the country with its Minute Men, concentration camps, and censored press. Sinclair Lewis shows that such a thing can happen in America as well. It’s so easy to think that our societies are so secure that nothing so horrific can happen, but that is a false sense of security, as we have seen with the current events in the world. We have given away our freedoms and privacy in the name of security and promise for a better future, and most foolishly, for free products. And honestly, if you look at the slogans our politicians spew and promises they make, they have (and some would argue always have been) empty ways to gain popularity. I will leave out my anger at making money out of the death of the citizens and move back to the book.

This was written in the time fascism was rising in Europe. And I can see the sentiment behind the book. When I watched the shall-not-be-named president vow his oath, I wondered could such a thing happen in Finland? Nah, I thought. But honestly, what Sinclair Lewis shows with this book is that, yes, it can, anywhere. There only has to be will in a perfect opportunity, and usually, such opportunities arise when things have gone to shit, as they have now. When citizens fear their future, you can easily change the constitution and be the authoritarian leader, the father figure, who will promise to make things better. The start is always good. It promises hope. But such regimes never work well with criticisms, so silence and violence begin.

How we react matters.

The book follows Doremus Jessup, an owner and publisher of a local newspaper, who dares to write a critical piece of the new government. He is thrown into jail and trialed. But his son-in-law comes to his aid to protest the treatment and is shot. Jessup is given a choice to go free and let his newspaper be taken over by the Corpos or… He sings the government’s tune for a while, but then he quits and joins the new underground movement, helping dissidents escape to Canada. Through Jessup, Sinclair Lewis delivers his criticism, but Jessup is far from perfect character. He is sly and pompous, and sometimes what he spews out makes me wince.

I liked the book because it brings up an important point and Sinclair Lewis delivers astute observations on how things can go wrong and why. He also doesn’t shy away from showing that capitalism and corporatism can lead to a totalitarian state. However, Lewis’s sardonic sentences are easy to conceive as the opposite. First, they seem like he is making this horrific statement, but then you find out that no, he is mocking our preconceptions of things like female sexuality. There is so much in the book you can grasp and ponder for days. You could almost say it is cluttered. Sinclair Lewis has so much to say. I get it. He was witnessing the rise of fascism in Europe, and most likely, those around him were dismissing it by saying things like, “It can’t happen here,” “Let them settle their own things,” and “Those Europeans are uncivilized. We wouldn’t fall for such rhetoric.” Perhaps. Who knows?

And no, we wouldn’t, right? You and I are too clever for that, right… The thing is that we all have blind spots. Our nations have blind spots. And if someone promises us quick and easy salvation from our problems, how many of us would make a critical analysis of such a gift?

Thank you for reading and tuning in with your Orwellian device. Have a nice day ❤

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