It Can’t Happen Here takes place in the 1930s when fascism had taken root in Germany, Italy, and Japan. In Sinclair Lewis’ novel, it does happen here. A fascist is elected president of the United States and then begins consolidating his power. Instead of Hitler’s SS, the United States has the Corpos running the concentration camps and exterminating people who do not agree with the regime of President Berzelius Windrip.
The main character, Doremus Jessup, is a newspaper editor who is first replaced and then imprisoned. He escapes from a concentration camp and flees to Canada before returning to the US to work in the underground against the regime. At that point the book peters out as if Sinclair Lewis didn’t have the time to write a proper ending. For me, this is the book’s only letdown.
As I am writing this review, a populist candidate who has many of the characteristics of Berzelius Windrip appears to be about to sew up the nomination for the presidency of the United States by one of our major political parties. My first thought is that anyone who supports a populist candidate who promises things that he could not possibly deliver should be required to read It Can’t Happen Here before voting. However, this book is not an easy read for those more used to reading light fiction. It is very much a product of the 1930s, and the reader must have the ability to appreciate a book that is set in a epoch very different from today’s and still see the similarities with the present situation.
If Donald Trump is elected president, I do not believe we will have concentration camps and the extermination of dissidents as is the case in It Can’t Happen Here. However, Donald Trump does sprout promises reminiscent of those spouted by Berzelius Windrip in this novel. There are parallels between today’s political situation and the one Sinclair Lewis portrayed.
I recommend “It Can’t Happen Here” to thoughtful readers who appreciate good literature. I suggest that fans of light fiction avoid it. This book was designed to provoke thought and is best read by those capable of critical thinking. Does that describe you?