- Leonard J. Leff. "The Breening of America." PMLA, Vol. 106, No. 3 (May, 1991), pp. 432-445 Published by: Modern Language Association
Leonard J. Leff’s article “The Breening of America” works to point out the fact that as head of the PCA Joseph Breen worked not only out of concern for upholding decency and morality, but at the same time he attempted to promote a political, profit-seeking agenda. The article indicates that many famed Hollywood directors including Charlie Chaplin shared the same contempt for certain aspects of American culture written about by famous authors such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Steinbeck, but they did not have the same freedom in expressing it.
The article characterizes Joseph Breen, who had fully realized power in July 1934 when The MPPDA created the PCA and named him director. Breen is noted to be morally conservative, and at the same time to have tyrannical tendencies. Nevertheless, Breen is described most aptly in this article as a facilitator between social forces, and American filmmakers. He is attributed with both providing a staunch conservative influence on the social environment, and with maximizing the profitability of Hollywood by way of giving the American public precisely what they wanted to see.
This is a particularly interesting portrayal of an organization that was for all intents and purposes designed to provide censorship. A censor of the film industry cannot be arbitrarily lawless and continually maximize profitability. Joseph Breen realized this and therefore took on his aforementioned facilitator role. This applies directly to The Grapes of Wrath because it begs the question; would the film have been as profitable if it it’s thematic focus was more closely aligned with Steinbeck’s? Leff would contend that it probably would not have been as profitable. Needless to say however, the thematic focus of the film was tailored toward providing entertainment that was uplifting at least to some extent.