A fragmentary and experimental work that is at once feminist, modernist, and proletarian, Yonnondio provides a unique example of the synthesis of two distinct but concurrent literary traditions: the proletarian socialist-realist aesthetic advocated by the political left of the 1930s and the experimental Modernism of mass culture. Yonnondio’s unusual aesthetic represents a blending of these two discordant traditions, with the long passages of near-realism typical of the proletarian literary movement juxtaposed with intermittent, sharply contrasting interjections of poetic stream of consciousness. While Yonnondio has typically been marketed as a work of fiction, much of the narrative is derived from Olsen’s own childhood experiences, and critics have situated Olsen’s approach to writing between a process of recording and one of transforming reality, suggesting that Olsen’s fidelity to fact is better described as a fidelity to essential fact, with form and pattern never imposed, but rather, exposed.
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