Having arrived late to the 1930s American literary scene, Paul had set about making up for
lost time. If the Paris-set Concert
Pitch, on which he had worked over so much of the decade, was out of touch with
the contemporary fashion for proleterian fiction, he would now make clear his solidarity
with home-based American democratic forces. The Stars and Stripes Forever is a
melodramatic labor novel set in the western Connecticut town of Meldon which, like Santa
Eulalia and the Steuben, Maine, of Low
Run Tide earlier, had been characterised by order and apparent changelessness:
You could see it across the valley, rooftops in clusters, with double rows of trees
where the streets cut through, and the steeple of the Congregational church and the square
tower and small gold dome of the Unitarian church where some famous man, I forget his
name, had been minister. There were flags fluttering in the old burying ground.1
In April 1936 it is entering the troubled stream of history.
Mark Loring is the owner of Meldons one factory, the Starret-Loring Company,
which makes loudspeakers and amplifiers. (The newest is named "The Voice in the
Wilderness.") Lorings immediate reaction to the appearance of a C.I.O.
organiser in town is, he tells his family, to buy another factory across the state line in
New York and move Meldons operation to it, even though "[I]t would ruin the
town." Is he "just bluffing," or will he go through with his threat? In
Lorings feudal-capitalist ideology it is a matter of "pride": "It
wasnt that Mark wasnt willing to pay the men what other factories paid, or
even a bit more. That fed his pride. What he couldnt stand was the idea of anyone
else having anything to say about Starret-Loring."2
As so often Paul chooses an untried, sensitive young man as a participant-narrator,
making him and the powerful Loring mirror-image characters. Ned Bascombs father and
Mark Lorings had been business partners, but Neds had "bungled the Loring
dough and someone [had] stolen [his] invention." Now Mark not Ned "owned the
town." Neds sister Phyllis, for reasons which are never clear, "married
Mark without expecting companionship, without admiring him or expecting to admire him
afterward." Owing his job and his home to Marks charity, Ned is deeply
ambivalent. Depressed by his insider knowledge of Lorings apparent plans for Meldon,
Ned makes a small gesture of rebellion at a baseball game between the formen and the
workers, a ritual demonstration of the bosss feudal sovereignty as captain and
pitcher for the management side. Catching for his brother-in-law, he whispers tips to the
batsmen about what to expect and the boss is humiliated.3
Ned wants to be accepted by the workers, whose toughness and straighforwardness he
admires. They are naturally enough wary of the bosss brother-in-law and keep him at
arms length. To strike some sort of further blow against Mark, albeit still without
jeopardising his job and causing difficulty to his sister, Ned points an attractive new
reporter for the local News in the direction of a story about Marks plans.
When he learns she has been fired for having written the piece, he tells the C.I.O.
organiser, Norcross, about Lorings plan. Norcross hires "the newspaper
jane" to "organize the factory girls."4
Loring begins to tighten the screw, moving the machines out that make "The Voice
of the Wilderness." When the companys sweetheart union asks for information,
Loring prevaricates and the local worthies dont want to believe the worst. (When Ned
suggests they press Mark, the Mayor asks, "Just what is your position in this
matter... Youre not in sympathy with your brother-in-law?") En famille,
Ned tries to explain matters to his distressed and naive sister. Marks mother takes
the line that
"[I]ts because those Reds from New York have come into town."...
..."Id rather see him burn the factory than turn it over to a lot of
foreign agitators to run."...
"They are Communists and thieves and should be hanged...."
The family lawyer Pillsbury. while guarded in her (and Marks) presence, sets out
his beliefs for Phyllis and Ned:
"The [Roosevelt] administration has encouraged wage earners to organize, and
rightly so, I believe. Such a course is consistent with my own conceptions of liberty and
justice.... Needless to say, my advice has not been followed [by Mark].
..."Either we are going back to the Middle Ages, when a man who [sic] worked
as a slave, or we are going forward to a better goal and the worker is going to have a
larger share in government and in controlling his cvondition. I believe with all my heart
that that is the trend.
"...I hope and pray that wholesale slaughter may be avoided."
Phyllis is appalled at her previous frivolity - "We all have had a useless
education," says the lawyer, who urges her to attempt to take up the effort to
influence her husband. It is the message for which Ned has been waiting: "For the
first time in years I was really interested in something... Meldon suddenly had been
swirled into the main current" of the worlds action.5
Ned still has to prove himself to the workers and the wary C.I.O. organiser and he
ingratiates himself further by trying to turn up evidence of Marks intentions. The
union mens talk "about the freights and wheatfields, the horde of migratory men
who roamed the plains and hit for the South before winter, the strikes and frame-ups and
false arrests" make Ned "feel small and juvenile. Now I was in the midst of
something. The focus of a world-wide conflict seemed to have touched the town of Meldon
and drawn me into service."6
Ned is taken aback at Marks ability to dominate the concerned
"citizens commitee" which has asked him about his plans. Mark denies his
connections with the New York factory, falsely claiming that the C.I.O. Communist
agitators had invented the story that he was about to close the Meldon factory:
"Until they suggested such a move, it had not entered my mind. Nevertheless,
there are other towns that are willing to offer us the highest inducements, complete
protection from the Reds, lower taxes...." Intimidated, the town fathers stay
on Lorings side by creating a Better Business Bureau, which inveighs against the
In the Fall, with the Roosevelt-Landon election looming, Loring begins to fire the
unionized Meldon workers. "Were fighting Washington and all the crack-pot
Jew advisers, and radicals all over the world...," he tells his family. "The
Wagner Acts not law. The Court hasnt upheld it and never will.... Its
Roosevelt and his gang who are breaking the law." When Phyllis reckons that
"as far as I understand the situation, Im in sympathy
with the men," her mother-in-law reflects that "Your father had
wild ideas, too... All the Bascombs have." Loring heads off a threatened strike
by running his own ballot; the workers resort to sabotage. For Mark it is
"survival of the fittest." The C.I.O. workers vote to strike;
sixty-percent of the workforce comes out, enough to cripple manufacturing in Meldon, and
the plant closes.8
Trying to respond to his sisters pathetic request to advise her how to restrain
her husband, Ned expresses his puzzlement as to what motivates Mark:
He didnt admire the men, except the very few he could get to ride the others....
The directors he thought were a lot of fossils and the stockholders a passel of dupes.
What good his wealth was I couldnt figure out. He didnt know how to spend it,
he hadnt learned the elements of good living. Why, he couldnt even order a
decent meal.... What he wanted most on earth was for Phyllis to love him and bear him
children and I think his biggest moment each year was when the newspapers printed the
income tax list and he read his name in the first few dozen....
Tied to Neds first-person narrative, the novel gives us no more enlightenment
about the person whose actions create its story; but Neds inability characterises
him and underscores his weakness.9
Ned expects "trouble between the union men and outside strikebreakers." When
Loring erects a "FOR SALE OR TO LET" sign, however, Ned becomes convinced
"that there was nothing he wouldnt do, that hed go to any lengths to ruin
the men whod defied him." Picketing begins and the town divides along battle
lines - when the Unitarian minister illustrates a sermon with readings from the Wagner
Act, a committe "sent Dr. Austin a letter suggesting that his usefulness had passed
and he resigned." The workers tavern loses its license after a fight breaks out
between foremen and men. The small amount of New Deal relief, spread between the union and
non-union families, doesnt go far. Mark believes that when the election sweeps
Roosevelt out of office the strike will collapse. The election returns produce
"astonishment and disappointment" in "the residential section of Meldon...
while the factory end of town rejoiced." Ned "reveled in the news of the
landslide," but Lawyer Pillsbury cautions that Mark wont give in and will
What Mark does is to offer to re-open the plant "to Strikers and Non-Strikers
Alike," to spread the rumor that the strike is collapsing, and to bring in
"armed guards in gray-green uniforms," Burns men. With the situation darkening
each day, Ned (with Paul showing through) thinks of the change that has come over the
it struck me then how much America had changed since I was a boy, how in the days when
my father was alive a man didnt have to hold on to a job if he didnt like it.
He could quit, make a fresh start, change his business or occupation. Id wondered
then why Europeans thought every little change in their lives was so important, why they
argued and hesitated and called in their relatives for advice. Here wed taken a
whole new continent and practically ruined it after three hundred years.
Soon there is a pitched battle between strikers and hired thugs, which results in the
strikers being clubbed down. By joining the strikers, Ned has now declared himself
publically and must move from the family home. A "grandstand reopening" of the
factory fails, partly because the thugs, who had been promised no trouble, take themselves
off. A soup kitchen is opened; visiting it, Ned "feels wonderful" at having
declared his solidarity.11
Events become garish. Loring gets the C.I.O. organiser and his assistant committed to
the state hospital. His mother becomes convinced that the hospital, which she founded in
her husbands memory and which has been seeing impartially to the wounded on both
sides, is "a hotbed of radical propaganda and subversive thought," and she fires
the doctor. Phyllis, having been able to do nothing with her husband, leaves him, acting
as an assistant to the doctor in temporary quarters. On Christmas Day, Mark takes out an
injunction against the picketers, threatening the use of the state police: "before
Marks Christmas threats the strikers had felt that they might be conducting a
winning struggle. After that they knew they had to lose, but they wouldnt give
in." When strikebreakers are brought in, a last battle occurs. The strikers are
beaten. The plant reopens with imported scabs. Though the town has now turned against Mark
Loring, it is too late. Ned goes off to teach and coach at a small boys school in
Western Massachusetts, while Mark
has a national reputation. The Employers Association elected him president and
gave him a unanimous vote of thanks. He made a speech... outlining his formula for dealing
with strikes and beating the C.I.O., and the chairman said afterward: "Thats
what the big employers of this country have been looking for for quite a while."12
If the novel closes with mordant satirical cynicism, however, there are also last
expressions of hope:
I couldnt help feeling that Mark and his crowd were making the big mistakes and
were on the skids.... I thought of the company of friends... and my pulse started pounding
when it came to me that never would one of us be idle from that day on.... That explained
why the defenseless, no matter how badly repulsed, seemed always to make a gain and to get
nearer to the light. There were always disciples. Looking over Meldon, once a peaceful
quiet town paternally guided by Marcus, Senior, anyone could see that Marks brittle
structure set up by means of thugs and guns and contempt for law and progress would last
but a very short time.13
Bennett Cerf was not wrong to point to stereotyping, and not only of characters, though
some of it can be put down to the narrators persistent naivité. Paul may equally
have felt this simplicity a useful educational vehicle for a widely popular novel; if so,
its poor sales would have disabused him. He may himself have recognised that his ability
or even commitment to pursuing moral depths and distinctions through traditional
fiction-writing had run its course. Certainly there had been more passion, shading and
depth in The Life and Death of a Spanish Town (1937). In any case, abandoning the
notion of multiple versions of The Stars and Stripes also meant the end of
novel-writing as he had pursued it since 1921.
1 Paul, The Stars and Stripes Forever (New York:
Random House, 1939), 6.
2 Ibid., 4, 7, 28. Random Houses lawyer, Horace S.
Manges, earlier reported to Saxe Commins on the possibility of libel in The Stars and
Stripes Forever. Mark Loring, he noted, was James Rand, Jr., the Starrett-Loring
Company was Remington Rand, the Excelsior Precision Tool Co. was the Elmira Precision Tool
Co. Random Houses Belle Becker asked Paul to changes some names: one Chowderhead
Cohen would be too easily recognisable as the fictional "Chowderhead" and Pearl
Bergoff as Pearl Weinstein. Before subsequent Paul books were published by Random House,
more - sometimes much more - would be heard from Lawyer Manges (Manges to Commins,
22 September 1938; Becker to Paul, 28 September 1938, Columbia University
Library Random House Collection).
3 Ibid., 29, 30,79; "her lover... had died five years
after the War, from the effects of gas," 228.
4 Ibid., 54, 55.
5 Ibid., 70, 75-6, 81-2, 94.
6 Ibid., 132.
7 Ibid., 143.
8 Ibid., 185-6, 187, 210.
9 Ibid., 229-30.
10 Ibid., 237, 235, 237, 279, 297.
11 Ibid., 303, 313, 341.
12 Ibid., 358, 377, 393. James H. Rand, Jr., president of
Remington Rand, the company on whose labor relations Paul based The Stars and Stripes
Forever, declared that his "Mohawk Valley formula" was the reason for his
victory over an AFL strike. "Two million businessmen have been looking for a formula
like this and business has hoped for, dreamed of, and prayed for such an example." In
The Turbulent Years (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970), 478, Irving Bernstein wrote,
"The fact that the formula violated the Wagner Act gave [employers] no pause."
Bernstein reports the Mohawk formula as the National Labor Relations Board outlined it in
1937. Its elements read like a plot summary of Pauls novel.
13 Stars and Stripes, 390.