M. Keith Booker, University of Arkansas
Nightmare Alley was the first novel by William Lindsay Gresham, a writer who never again produced anything of comparable quality or importance. Moreover, it was a novel that appeared during a very narrow historical window—after the World War II need for solidarity against fascism and before the anticommunist purges that started with the House UnAmerican Activities Committee hearings beginning in 1948—when it was, for a brief time, possible to publish honest critiques of American society that would soon become unthinkable in mainstream American culture. More than anything, Nightmare Alley is an extremely dark denunciation of the rhetoric of the American dream, presenting that dream as the sort of cynically false promise that might be presented on one level by a carnival barker or on another level by a sophisticated conman. Indeed, the machinations of conmen on whatever level are clearly presented to us in this text as representative of the workings of American society as a whole, in which virtually everyone is attempting to con everyone else. In addition, the novel focuses this critique on two linchpins of American life: capitalism and religion.
Indeed, other than the thoroughgoing and unmitigated darkness with which the novel takes down the pretentions of American society, what is most striking about Nightmare Alley is its comprehensive range. Beginning with working-class marks taken in by traveling carnival geek shows and proceeding all the way through to the ultra-wealthy whose sense of entitlement makes them believe the preposterous promises offered to them by much more sophisticated hucksters, the novel depicts almost every level and aspect of American society as corrupt and dehumanizing, leaving almost no path to a meaningful existence. Its central conman figure has his greatest success as a religious huckster, anticipating the televangelists of today. Meanwhile, he attempts to con a rich industrialist who turns out to be just as corrupt as (and more malign than) he is. Moreover, the film conducts this takedown of the pretentions of American society in a multi-pronged critique that involves a variety of different social categories, including gender, race, and (most importantly) class.
Because it was so firmly situated in a particular historical moment, Nightmare Alley has never received the critical respect it deserves in subsequent times, though individual reviewers do still discover it, usually with considerable surprise. For example, noting the “raw Dostoevskian power” of the novel, Michael Dirda proclaims, “It’s not often that a novel leaves a weathered and jaded reviewer like myself utterly flattened, but this one did.” Interestingly, though, Nightmare Alley was not particularly controversial when it was published. Not only was it well received by readers and reviewers, but it was immediately snapped up by Twentieth Century Fox, one of the most mainstream of the major Hollywood film studios. That Hollywood might be attracted to the novel is not surprising: its darkness seems very much in line with the film noir cycle that was, at the time, reaching the height of its popularity in Hollywood. The 1947 film adaptation of the novel is often prominently cited among the noir films of the immediate postwar years, though it is somewhat unusual among those films—and in two very different ways. On the one hand, Nightmare Alley had a higher budget and higher production values than most noir films, casting A-list star Tyrone Power, known for his lead roles in swashbuckling adventure films such as The Mark of Zorro (1940), as anti-heroic protagonist Stanton “Stan” Carlisle. On the other hand, even though it was forced by the Hollywood Production Code to eliminate some of aspects of the novel that were darkest and most critical of mainstream Americanism (including most of the critique of religion), it is still unusually dark and cynical, even for a film genre known precisely for its darkness and cynicism. Thus, Mark Osteen, describing Nightmare Alley as “one of the darkest films in the noir canon,” chooses to highlight it in the title of his book-length study of the way film noir reflects the failures of the American dream (1). For him, the film “dramatizes how the pursuit of happiness is transformed into a shallow consumerism by means of a therapeutic ethos that supplies cheap but ultimately unsatisfying solutions to existential questions” (249). Still, however dark the 1947 film (or its 2021 remake, freed of the restrictions of the Code but still significantly bowdlerized), the novel is, in general, much darker.
Nightmare Alley is a complex novel that can be read in a number of different literary contexts. For example, Tony Williams reads the novel within the context of naturalism as practiced by Émile Zola—and, in particular, in terms of the tendency of naturalistic fiction to view life as deterministic, leaving characters little room to determine their own fates. But this novel is also linguistically complex, shifting registers as the context shifts from the marginalized world of the carnival to the upper echelons of American society. In this focus on language, it often reads very much like a modernist text, which is surely intentional, given that the novel takes its first epigraph from T. S. Eliot’s modernist classic The Waste Land, while the second epigraph, from Petronius, simply repeats, in English translation, the epigraph to The Waste Land itself. Finally, the shifts in linguistic register—from carnival slang to the pretentious talk of the rich–are accompanied by movement among different class positions in American society, shifts that occur as part of a thoroughgoing critique of American society that is reminiscent of the proletarian fiction of the 1930s.
Nightmare Alley and Religion
As Stan starts to have success with his mentalist act, he quickly realizes that he can maximize his profits by adding a spiritualist dimension, leading eventually to found his own “spiritualist” church (the “Church of the Heavenly Message”). Stan’s invented religion draws upon spiritualism and Eastern mysticism, but it also seeks to take on Christian resonances that he believes will appeal to his audiences. He thus adopts the title “Reverend,” even going so far as to don a clerical collar, making it clear that he wants the supernatural dimension of his work to be identified with Christianity.
In addition, the critique of religion in Nightmare Alley goes well beyond Stan’s own activities as a religious mountebank, beginning with the negative depiction of the hypocrisy of Stan’s Bible-thumping abusive father. In addition, the text essentially equates preachers to con men repeatedly. Zeena, for example, compares her work as a fortune teller to the work of a preacher when she first describes it to Stan: “You cheer ’em up, give ’em something to wish and hope for. That’s all the preacher does every Sunday. Not much different, being a fortuneteller and a preacher, way I look at it” (35). Granted, Zeena here tries to put a positive spin on this comparison, suggesting that both fortune tellers and preachers are providing a useful service, however fake it might be. But Stan, taking her advice, clearly approaches the comparison in a much more cynical way, viewing the religious angle as just another tool in his kit for taking in “marks.”
Nightmare Alley and Gender
Gender is probably the social category that Nightmare Alley deals with least well, largely because it contains no truly effective female characters who can stand in opposition to the general negativity of the text. Still, it does identify gender as a key form of social exploitation, while showing significant sympathy for characters such as Molly Cahill, who are sometimes cruelly exploited in the course of the narrative. At the same time, the novel’s treatment of gender is perhaps a bit problematic due to an excessive reliance on Freudian explanations for gender attitudes, which tends to universalize those attitudes rather than placing them in a specific social and historical context.
The novel, much more than the film adaptations, provides a Freudian explanation for Stan’s insecurities and for his seemingly insatiable need for validation. In particular, we see much more in the novel of his childhood, making it clear that he was the son of an attractive mother whose sexualized air was somewhat of a confusion to him but who formed a sort of alliance with him against the abusive husband/father of the family. Meanwhile, the mother had eventually fled the family home with another man, leaving Stan at the mercy of his father—and leaving Stan’s beloved dog Gyp to be beaten to death in the father’s fit of rage at the mother’s departure.
This family background is clearly intended to provide an explanation for the way Stan seems to be seeking a mother figure in his adult relationships with women, while also having problematic relationships with older men who might be father figures. The first of the mother figures he encounters as an adult is Zeena, the older woman whom he meets soon after joining the carnival and who teaches him the basics of the mentalist act that will propel him into a career beyond the carnival. Stan initiates a sexual relationship with Zeena, though it is clear that he is more interested in what he can learn from her. And it remains for individual readers to judge just how accidental Stan’s contribution to the death of Zeena’s husband Pete might have been. In any case, one thing that is clear is that Stan’s pursuit of a personal relationship with Zeena has more to do with professional ambition than with personal feelings.
Zeena resurfaces several times in the novel, evolving more and more into a nurturing, motherly figure, which is clearly meant to be a positive depiction, though it does show certain limitations in the roles that might be played by women in American society. Molly, the woman with whom Stan has the most extensive involvement in the text, is also something of a nurturing figure, though she is an even weaker one who is thoroughly dominated by Stan in their relationship, leading ultimately to a disastrous conclusion, though she is again given a fate that is supposedly positive in that, after the end of her relationship with Stan, she assumes a somewhat conventional role as wife and mother.
The strongest female character in Nightmare is the fake psychiatrist Lilith Ritter, who is herself a ruthless con artist. Indeed, Stan cons almost everyone he meets (including Molly) until he runs into Lilith, for whom he is clearly no match. She, in fact, cons him. In this sense, Lilith is very much a character in the tradition of the femme fatale figure who was so important to film noir, the seductive woman who achieves her own goals by outsmarting and manipulating men. In this sense, Nightmare Alley has the same complicated relationship to gender as does film noir. On the one hand, its most capable and independent female character is perhaps also its most villainous. On the other hand, Lilith, like the typical femme fatale, displays a strength and an intelligence that goes well beyond that which was typical in American culture at the time. Indeed, both this novel and many noir films imply that, within the context of American society at the time, women are likely to succeed as independent actors only if they are willing to employ unscrupulous means.
It is, to an extent, up to the reader to make their own decision as to whether they wish to see this motif as a criticism of American society or as a criticism of women. One could argue, though, that many aspects of Nightmare Alley heavily tilt the interpretation of this motif toward the former. For one thing, American society—and especially the opportunities it claims to offer to the industrious—is figured very negatively throughout the novel. For another thing, both Zeena and (especially) Molly are positive characters who accept limited forms of success, taking on domestic roles because they are basically the only ones open to them unless they are willing to resort to the criminality of Lilith. Molly, the loving daughter of a gambler, ultimately becomes the wife of a gambler who clearly reminds her of her father, fulfilling Zeena’s early suggestion that “the gamblers was the great sheiks in my day. Any gal who could knock herself off a gambling man was doing something” (28). Meanwhile, Zeena herself winds up in a comfortable relationship with the former carnival performer Joe Plasky, jointly operating a modest mail-order business and owning a small farm as a backup.
Nightmare Alley and Race
All of the major characters of Nightmare Alley are white, so that race and other aspects of multiculturalism would not seem to be foregrounded in the text. However, a closer look shows that race and multiculturalism are quite prominent throughout the narrative. Granted, the carnival of the novel’s first sequence is an example of the kind of setting that is frequently used in film noir to introduce a certain kind of Orientalist exoticism that suggests aspects of life that evade the sanitized and sanctimonious official image of American society. The tarot card images that introduce each chapter (and that also ultimately play a role in the plot) suggest a similar exoticism, including the indication at one point that such cards might possibly “go all the way back to Egypt” (57). Indeed, elements of the carnival go back to Egypt as well. Thus, when we (and Stan) are first introduced to the carnival that plays such a key role in the film, we are told that it features a “Hawaiian dance show, what they called a kooch show” (17). The “Hawaiian” designation here introduces a certain Orientalist element to this show, but the “kooch” label (widely used for displays of soft-core exotic dancing during this period), has its roots in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, where a performer known as “Little Egypt” introduced belly dancing to American audiences by dancing to a song entitled “The Streets of Cairo,” though the more popular term at the time for this sort of dancing was “hoochie coochie” dancing, a term that ultimately came to be associated with any sexually provocative form of dance performance. Certain kinds of disreputable culture are also associated with “gypsies” in the novel, including the so-called “gypsy switch” used by faux psychoanalyst Lilith Ritter to rob Stan of the money he got from millionaire industrialist Ezra Grindle as part of a con game. But the term “gypsy” (now considered a somewhat offensive term for Romani people) was eventually adopted in England because it was thought that the Romani originated in Egypt. Meanwhile, the racist term “gypped,” associated with the supposedly larcenous tendencies of gypsies, is also used at one point in the novel (172). And, of course, Stan’s beloved boyhood dog (ultimately beaten to death by Stan’s abusive father) is named “Gyp,” which surely also derives from gypsy. The term “gyp,” in fact, was at one time a standard term used to indicate a young female dog. It is thus essentially a synonym for “bitch” and has some of the offensive resonances of that term, while associating it specifically with “gypsies” or Egyptians.
All of these references combine to indicate the casual way in which Americans tend to apply Orientalist stereotypes to anyone who comes from a culture different than their own. There are also indications in the novel of the racist treatment of African Americans. Until late in the text, only one African American character, a servant, is even mentioned in the text, suggesting the marginal position of African Americans in American culture of the period. In addition, Stan himself displays casual racism at points in the text. Complaining that he and Molly, hired to perform their mentalist act for a private party of rich people, are made to feel like hired help not fit to fraternize with the guests, he suggests that their meager pay for the performance was not worth getting get “treated like an extra darky they hired to pass the booze around” (113).
At one point early in the text, when Stan and Molly are still with the traveling carnival, it ventures into the South, an area Stan has never visited before. The narrative notes a change in the crowds, with the whites who attend the carnival seeming “gaunter, their faces filled with desolation” (64). The suggestion here is that the crowds here are more impoverished than the crowds in the north had been, which might derive from the fact that this part of the action is taking place during the 1930s, when the economically underdeveloped South was hit particularly hard by the Great Depression. But what is even more obvious in these southern crowds is their segregated nature, with the black attendees hanging back on the margins of the carnival, showing compulsory deference to the (impoverished) white attendees. Unaccustomed to such a situation, Stan finds the racial tensions palpable:
“Everywhere the shining, dark faces of the South’s other nation caught the highlights from the sun. They stood in quiet wonder, watching the carny put up in the smoky morning light. In the Ten-in-One they stood always on the fringe of the crowd, an invisible cordon holding them in place. When one of the whites turned away sharply and jostled them the words ‘Scuse me,’ fell from them like pennies balanced on their shoulders. Stan had never been this far south and something in the air made him uneasy. This was dark and bloody land where hidden war traveled like a million earthworms under the sod” (65).
Another sign that this part of the action occurs during the Depression occurs soon after when Zeena, using her understanding of the people in the crowd to be able to feign reading their minds as part of her carnival act, announces that she senses their dream of traveling to the north in search of jobs. Here, she refers to a very real historical phenomenon, when many Southerners traveled northward in search of employment during the 1930s, particularly African Americans who journeyed to the urban centers of the north in search of better opportunities, continuing a trend known as the “Great Migration” that had begun as early as 1916, when the rise of consumer capitalism spurred a dramatic increase in northern factory production (and an increased need for factory labor).
Stan, meanwhile, acknowledges that Zeena is surely correct, thinking to himself how central dreams of northern employment were becoming to the southern mindset. But Stan realizes that simply moving northward is no magic cure and that the dream of migrating northward in search of opportunities is really just another version of the false dream that permeates American society as a whole, a dream that Stan himself thinks of—in the novel’s central metaphor—as a nightmare. In particular, this dream of finding a better life by traveling to the North reminds him of his own childhood dream that gives the novel its title: “Ever since he was a kid Stan had had the dream. He was running down a dark alley, the buildings vacant and black and menacing on either side. Far down at the end of it a light burned; but there was something behind him, close behind him, getting closer until he woke up trembling and never reached the light. They have it too—a nightmare alley. The North isn’t the end. The light will only move further on. And the fear close behind them” (67).
Having been introduced, these black crowds no longer play a role in the text, though race does ultimately play an important role in the book’s surprisingly radical treatment of the issue of class. Late in Nightmare Alley, we are introduced to one very positive African American character (probably the most positive character in the entire book and one who was notably excluded from both film adaptations) in the person of one “Frederick Douglass Scott, son of a Baptist minister, grandson of a slave” (255). The naming of this character already links him to a tradition of African American intellectual activists, so perhaps it is no surprise that he turns out to be the most politically sophisticated character in the entire novel, the one who sees through the real reasons behind the false promises of the American dream rather than simply being taken in by them.
That this character is black might bring him dangerously close to the phenomenon of the “magical Negro,” a type of problematic character identified (and named) by African American filmmaker Spike Lee in 2001 to indicate black characters (typically with supernatural powers, or at least special folksy wisdom) whose only purpose in a film is to provide help and support to the (more important) white characters. Complaining specifically of then recent films such as The Green Mile (1999) and The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), Lee argued that such roles promulgated harmful clichés by suggesting that black people have no bigger concerns than to be helpful to white people, thus reproducing longtime problematic stereotypes: “They’re still doing the same old thing … recycling the noble savage and the happy slave” (qtd. in Gonzalez).
In point of fact, though, Scott is precisely the opposite of the “magical Negro” character. The powers he employs are intellectual and analytical, rather than magical, and he does not appear in the novel merely to provide help and support to Stan. Granted, he does save Stan from dying beneath the wheels of a train he is trying to board—and he attempts to educate Stan about the evils of capitalism—but Stan is pretty much beyond salvation at this point, while Scott moves on to continue his battle against class-based capitalist exploitation of all races.
Nightmare Alley and Class
The aspect of Nightmare Alley that probably seems most unusual to twenty-first-century readers (and that would, in fact, become quite unusual soon after the release of the novel) is its treatment of class. The book’s critique of the promise of upward mobility offered by conventional visions of the American dream is already more radical than that which circulates through much of film noir, even without this emphasis on class. But what is particularly striking about Nightmare Alley from the perspective of later decades is that it couches so much of its critique of the American dream in terms of class, adopting a focus that would almost disappear from American literature by the 1950s, though it is one that was quite common during the flowering of proletarian literature during the 1930s.
One of the crucial ways in which Nightmare Alley deals with the question of class is in its overall negative depiction of the motif of upward mobility, showing (in a mode that goes all the way back to authors such as Balzac) the ethical cost of a focus on upward mobility, in which success for one necessarily means failure for others in a war of all against all. Stan Carlisle is willing to resort to any level of perfidy in order to rise from his humble beginnings and to gain the wealth that he has been taught by the popular rhetoric of America to believe will make him happy. However, like Jay Gatsby before him, no matter how much wealth he gains, Stan finds that he can never find happiness—nor can he be accepted as an equal by established members of the upper classes, who continue to regard him as a scruffy upstart unworthy of traveling in their social circles.
Meanwhile, the book’s central example of a “real” rich person is Grindle, whose sense of entitlement is so astonishing that he believes he should be able to use his wealth to achieve anything he chooses, despite what it might do to other people. Indeed, he believes that he should be able even to transcend the boundary between life and death, bringing back Dorrie, the girlfriend from his younger years whose death seems to have haunted him throughout his adult years. This seeming sentimentality might appear to humanize Grindle, whom one could argue might have experienced some genuine remorse after Dorrie died in the wake of an illegal abortion that she was forced to have after he impregnated her. His desire to bring back Dorrie, supposedly seeking some kind of redemption for her death, is so strong that he is willing to believe that Stan has connections in the spirit realm that can accomplish this goal. Stan is more than willing to take advantage of Grindle’s gullibility, essentially becoming a pimp and employing his own girlfriend, Molly, to impersonate the resurrected Dorrie, even though he knows that this impersonation will almost certainly require her to have sex with Grindle.
Even the cynical Stan, however, underestimates the extent to which reclaiming Dorrie as his sexual property (rather than seeking her foregiveness) is central to Grindle’s sentimental memories of the young woman. Grindle does, in fact, have sex with Molly/Dorrie, who grudgingly submits. But she resists when he immediately demands that they do it again, then attempts to rape her when she refuses. Shocked, Stan reacts strongly, partly because seeing Molly have sex with Grindle has clearly reminded him of the traumatic moment in which he saw his mother having extra-marital sex during his childhood: “You goddamned hypocrite!,” he exclaims. “Forgiveness? All you wanted was a piece of ass!” (224). Panicking, Stan slugs both the hysterical Molly and the rapacious Grindle, then flees the scene.
Grindle here shows his true colors: he believes that he owns people and that they should not be able to escape his control. And this sense of ownership is not limited to his personal relationships with women. It also has to do with the way he runs his business, which involves cynical manipulation of his workers in order to maximize his own profits. Thus, in a motif missing from the film adaptations, we learn late in the text that, with his white workers increasingly tending toward organizing to demand better treatment, he has employed the strategy—one that was, in fact, common in the 1930s—of recruiting black workers in the hope both that they will be easier to manipulate than his white workers and that the existing white workers will identify these new black workers as their enemies rather than the management that has been exploiting them, thus making them also easier to exploit.
Stan learns about this strategy after he has fled in the wake of his attack on Grindle, sending him into a downward spiral toward murder and geekdom. As Scott explains it to him, “They get all the colored boys in there, and then they stir up the white boys, and pretty soon they all messing around with each other and forget all about long hours and short pay” (248). There will, however, someday be a reckoning, Scott declares, “Someday people going to get smart and mad, same time. You can’t get nothing in this world by yourself” (252). When Stan responds that Scott sounds like a labor agitator (a term with negative connotations), Scott simply responds that workers don’t need to be agitated—they just need to learn to work together for their common good.
This classic 1930s pro-labor rhetoric might seem a bit out of place in a novel of 1946, but we should remember that this scene is taking place in the 1930s, when such rhetoric was much more common. Scott here plays the role of the “mentor” figure that was so common in 1930s proletarian fiction, whose role was to educate the protagonist about the realities of class struggle. And Stan could certainly use a mentor. He understands full well that there is something rotten about the system in which he lives, but he does not have a sophisticated understanding of the nature of this rottenness or of what to do about it. To him, the dog-eat-dog world of capitalist competition is simply insane: “What use is there in living and starving and fighting the next guy for a full belly? It’s a nut house. And the biggest loonies are at the top” (250).
Unfortunately, Stan himself is far enough gone at this point that Scott is unable to serve as an effective mentor for him before he himself is forced to escape with his life. But, if there should be any doubt at all about Scott’s actual political orientation, Gresham soon makes that orientation abundantly clear. Scott is perceived as enough of a threat by the powers-that-be that they stop the train specifically to look for Scott, who is rumored to be aboard. He escapes anyway, though, living again to fight another day and to remain a threat to Grindle and his ilk. As Gresham’s narrator tells us, “A specter was haunting Grindle. It was a specter in overalls” (256). Scott is thus specifically identified with the specter of communism that was announced to be haunting Europe at the beginning of the Communist Manifesto (1848), but in a mode that reflects the revolutionary optimism that was often found in 1930s proletarian fiction.
It is likely, of course, that such declarations, along with the general suppression of class as an analytical category in American political discourse of the Cold War years, were largely responsible for the disappearance of Nightmare Alley in discussions of American literature in the 1950s. Class, meanwhile, has remained secondary to race and gender even in the most politically enlightened discussions of American literature in the decades since the end of the Cold War, even though there has been some movement toward recovering the American radical literary tradition, with its often militant treatment of the issue of class, from the dustbin of history, into which it had been swept beneath a constant barrage of anticommunist propaganda during the Cold War. Recent scholars have begun to make significant inroads into the hegemony of the key Cold War notion that political art, shackled by the insistent demands of the party line, is diametrically opposed to “genuine” art, in which the mind of the individual artist roams free, soaring to heights of creativity and innovation and flying by the nets of ideology.
However, this work of critical recovery has, with good reason, tended to focus on the proletarian literature of the 1930s. After all, there is no question that such works of proletarian fiction as Agnes Smedley’s Daughter of the Earth (1929), Mike Gold’s Jews without Money (1930), Myra Page’s Gathering Storm (1932), Jack Conroy’s The Disinherited (1933), John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939), and Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940) represent a distinct historical moment in the literary treatment of class never equaled in American literature before or since. Yet, this moment is now nearly a century in the past, while this focus on the 1930sto the exclusion of later leftist culture threatens, in subtle and unintentional ways, to reinforce the widely accepted notion that the interwar proletarian movement was a brief flowering that was soon extinguished, discredited by such subsequent historical events as the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact and the resurgence of American capitalist affluence after World War II. In particular, an exclusive focus on the proletarian fiction of the 1930s tends to make that fiction look like a dead end that held nothing of value for subsequent generations of American leftist writers. Nightmare Alley, I think, is one of the texts that suffers most extensively from this critical focus on the 1930s, even as it also serves as a demonstration that the proletarian fiction of the 1930s was not necessarily a dead end until it was overcome by the stronger forces of the anticommunist hysteria of the 1950s. It is one of the markers of the visceral power and literary quality of this novel that it has been twice adapted to film, even if both of those adaptations stripped the novel of its most radical political content.
Booker, M. Keith. The Modern American Novel of the Left: A Research Guide. Greenwood Press, 1999.
Booker, M. Keith, and Isra Daraiseh. Consumerist Orientalism: The Convergence of Arab and American Popular Culture in the Age of Global Capitalism. I. B. Tauris, 2019.
Dirda, Michael. “Nightmare Alley, by William Lindsay Gresham.” Washington Post, 13 May 2010, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/12/AR2010051204784.html. Accessed 5 February 2010.
Foley, Barbara. Radical Representations: Politics and Form in U. S. Proletarian Fiction, 1929–1941. Duke University Press, 1993.
Gonzalez, Susan. “Director Spike Lee Slams ‘Same Old’ Black Stereotypes in Today’s Films.” Yale Bulletin & Calendar, 2 March 2001, https://web.archive.org/web/20090121190429/http://www.yale.edu/opa/arc-ybc/v29.n21/story3.html. Accessed 6 February, 2022.
Osteen, Mark. Nightmare Alley: Film Noir and the American Dream. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.
Williams, Tony. “The Naturalist Horizons of Nightmare Alley (1947).” Excavatio, vol. 22, nos. 1-2, 2007, pp. 121–37.
 For more background on this phenomenon, see Booker and Daraiseh (52-53).
 Barbara Foley’s Radical Representations is the best critical study of the proletarian literature of the 1930s, though Foley employs an extended notion of the “1930s” that runs from 1929 to 1941. See my own The Modern American Novel of the Left for a broader view of American novels with leftist inclinations (though, alas, that book does not discuss Nightmare Alley).