The difference between the America of films, magazines, and packaged goods, and the America of Faulkner, Hawthorne, Saul Bellow, Carson McCullers, James Baldwin, Melville—I stab the names with a pin, hitting on past as well as present, because the then in every country is contained in its now—is extraordinary. (It is interesting that that marvelous American invention, sick humor, is based on this very difference: life as you’ve been told to want it, and life as it is.) One can’t explain away the gap in terms of the difference between art and commercialism. For though shamelessly used by commerce, the American image is also held up by Americans in high and serious places, political ones, for example. The image exalts youth, success, unquestioning patriotism, the love of a good man/woman, the confidence of freedom and of being right. The best of American writers are concerned with the difficulty of fulfillment; the corruption of integrity; the struggle for moral standards in public as well as private life; the truth of love, whatever its form, hetero- or homosexual, the battle of the individual against the might of society; and the doubt that one is right.
—Nadine Gordimer, 1963