Contrary to popular opinion,
Prohibition did not result in the establishment of organized crime.
In fact, elements of organized crime had been present for decades
before Prohibition was put into effect with the Volstead Act and
the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
in 1919 (set into effect in 1920). Prohibition did, however, have
a solidifying influence, allowing organized crime to grow to the
almost epic proportions which have been mythologized in American
history, as, for example, is the case with figures like Al Capone
and Eliot Ness. Such narratives are part not only of our national
history, but of the unique history of the city of Chicago, one of
the cities, if not the single city, most mired in a history of organized
crime and gangster warfare. In many cases, the gangsters bought
off whole waves of police and whole groups of politicians, forcing
them to turn their heads to their illicit activities. The "law,"
then, seemed in many cases just as immoral as the gangsters they
sided with. Government officials who were not corrupt often found
they were powerless in combating the activities of the gangs of
In many of the major literary
works considering Chicago, the city takes on a connotation as an overtly
corruptive influence, becoming the catalyst of numerous moral disruptions,
a "devil on the shoulder" of many characters from Dreiser's Sister Carrie, to Wright's Bigger Thomas, to Algren's "disinherited"
streetwalkers and hustlers. Considering the literature of Chicago provides
numerous concrete examples of the corruption of law and politicians
(Studs Lonigan as well as "Blight" by Stuart Dybek) as well
as the fact that many normal people found themselves made into criminals
through Prohibition (Studs Lonigan). In our
web page, we seek to provide an exploration of the real
corruption occurring in the city and its repercussions in thematic representations
of the works.
It is interesting to
note that there seems a unique interplay of text and history here,
which we seek to reveal; the literature of Chicago both seems to
be informed by the historically-grounded "corruption of the
city" in the gangsters as well as their friends in politics
and in the police, while at the same time fictionalizing an aura
of the city as a corrupting influence unto itself. In other words,
the works we consider both form and are informed by Chicago's "corruption."