The realist legacy and the late 1940sAs in the first half of the 20th century, fiction in the second half reflects the character of each decade. The late 1940s saw the aftermath of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War.
World War II offered prime material: Norman Mailer (The Naked and the Dead, 1948) and James Jones (From Here to Eternity, 1951) were two writers who used it best. Both of them employed realism verging on grim naturalism; both took pains not to glorify combat. The same was true for Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions (1948). Herman Wouk, in The Caine Mutiny (1951), also showed that human foibles were as evident in wartime as in civilian life. Later, Joseph Heller cast World War II in satirical and absurdist terms (Catch-22, 1961), arguing that war is laced with insanity. Thomas Pynchon presented an involuted, brilliant case parodying and displacing different versions of reality (Gravity's Rainbow, 1973); and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., became one of the shining lights of the counterculture during the early 1970s following publication of Slaughterhouse-Five; or, The Children's Crusade (1969), his antiwar novel about the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, by Allied forces during World War II (which he witnessed on the ground as a prisoner of war).
The 1940s saw the flourishing of a new contingent of writers, including poet-novelist-essayist Robert Penn Warren, dramatists Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, and short story writers Katherine Anne Porter and Eudora Welty. All but Miller were from the South. All explored the fate of the individual within the family or community and focused on the balance between personal growth and responsibility to the group.