Volume 18, Number 1, March 2000

It Can't Happen Here

By Sinclair Lewis

Reviewed by William H. Stoddard
July 1983

Originally published in 1935, Sinclair Lewis's satiric account of a fascist takeover of the United States is still disturbingly plausible. The author's own views, despite his long friendship with H. L. Mencken, don't seem to have been libertarian; for example, he has Franklin Delano Roosevelt founding a Jeffersonian Party after the Democratic Party nominates the fascist leader Berzelius Windrip. But his villains are exactly the kind of authoritarians that libertarians despise, and his account of the American underground is persuasively heroic. Lewis focuses most of his story on a single fictitious small town, Fort Beulah, Vermont, which he creates in as much detail as his better known fictitious city of Zenith and state of Winnemac. His hero, Doremus Jessup, a newspaper editor, is the center of a cast of a dozen or so ordinary people who are pushed into subversion and rebellion by the events around them, while their neighbors—from the opportunistic rich to the resentful fools—rush to embrace the new regime. This sharp focus makes the novel's point more vivid and shows the effectiveness of Lewis's realism as a literary technique.

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