Timeless Relevance of “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis Essay

Words: 1712
Pages: 7
Subject: Literature

Assignment Question

This is basically a 5 page free-write book report on the book “It Can’t Happen Here” by Lewis Sinclair The first 3 pages can be a summary of the book, but the last 2 pages have to be why the book can be relevant in our world today.



“It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis, published in 1935, remains an intriguing literary masterpiece that continues to resonate with modern readers. While the novel may be set in the United States of the 1930s, its themes and messages transcend the boundaries of time and place. In this essay, we will provide an in-depth exploration of the novel’s central themes, characters, and plot for the initial part. The focus will then shift towards examining why this literary work remains remarkably pertinent in today’s complex political landscape.

Summary of “It Can’t Happen Here”

Set in the tumultuous 1930s, “It Can’t Happen Here” paints a chilling picture of a United States on the brink of authoritarianism. The story revolves around the rise of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a charismatic and opportunistic politician. Windrip skillfully exploits the economic hardships and political discontent of the time, employing populist rhetoric to ascend to the presidency. Once in power, he systematically transforms the nation into a totalitarian regime, suppressing civil liberties, stifling dissent, and targeting intellectuals, artists, and political opponents.

Central Themes

The Erosion of Democracy
Populist Leadership
The Power of Propaganda
The Role of Ordinary Citizens
Persecution of Intellectuals and Dissenters
The novel’s overarching theme is the fragility of democracy, illustrating how quickly a democratic society can deteriorate into authoritarianism under the right circumstances. Windrip’s ascent to power is a stark reminder of the real-world historical examples of leaders who have used similar tactics to manipulate public fears and divisions. The novel also emphasizes the complicity of ordinary citizens who, driven by fear or self-interest, allow an authoritarian regime to take root.

Relevance in Today’s World

The context in which Sinclair Lewis wrote “It Can’t Happen Here” was marked by the rise of authoritarian regimes, such as Adolf Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy. In that era, the novel served as a cautionary tale and a poignant reminder of the vulnerability of democracy. Today, as we navigate the complexities of the 21st century, Lewis’s warning remains as crucial as ever.

Populism and the Erosion of Democratic Norms

The rise of populist leaders around the world is strikingly reminiscent of Windrip’s ascent in the novel. Populist figures who promise simple solutions to complex problems can amass support by using divisive rhetoric and exploiting societal divisions. This novel vividly illustrates how such leaders can undermine democratic norms, leading to the gradual erosion of institutions that safeguard the rule of law, a free press, and individual liberties. Recent examples of leaders employing populist rhetoric to gain and maintain power can be found in various regions of the world, emphasizing the book’s ongoing relevance. In the contemporary context, populism is not confined to one nation or region but has become a global phenomenon. Leaders who employ populist tactics often appeal to the frustrations of the marginalized, promising to bring about swift and radical changes. The danger lies in the potential erosion of democratic norms and institutions when these leaders prioritize short-term gains over long-term democratic stability. The novel’s depiction of Windrip’s rise serves as a stark reminder of the need to safeguard democratic values and norms in the face of populist movements.

The Role of Propaganda

One of the most striking aspects of the novel is its portrayal of the power of propaganda in shaping public opinion and influencing the masses. In today’s world, the internet and social media platforms have emerged as formidable tools for the dissemination of propaganda and disinformation, often aimed at advancing political agendas. The manipulation of information and the spread of “fake news” have become central elements of modern politics, mirroring Windrip’s use of propaganda in the novel. This underscores the need for media literacy and the critical evaluation of information sources in today’s society. The book’s exploration of propaganda is especially relevant in an era when information spreads rapidly through various digital platforms. The novel highlights how the manipulation of information can lead to the distortion of reality, making it difficult for citizens to discern fact from fiction. In the modern world, information warfare and the spread of disinformation have been used to influence public opinion, elections, and even global events. The lessons from “It Can’t Happen Here” call for increased vigilance, critical thinking, and media literacy to counteract the influence of propaganda in contemporary society.

The Danger of Complacency

“It Can’t Happen Here” is a stark reminder of the role that ordinary citizens play in the consolidation of authoritarian power. The novel highlights how individuals, driven by fear or personal gain, can become complicit in the erosion of democracy. In the contemporary world, it is crucial for citizens to remain vigilant and actively engaged in safeguarding democratic values. Complacency and apathy can inadvertently contribute to the erosion of democratic norms and the rise of authoritarianism. The dangers of complacency are evident in various parts of the world, where individuals may choose to remain passive or silent in the face of threats to democracy. The novel serves as a powerful call to action, emphasizing the responsibility of each citizen to actively protect and preserve democratic principles. It highlights the importance of civic engagement, which includes voting, participating in civil society, and holding leaders accountable. In today’s world, citizens must be proactive in defending democratic values and institutions to prevent the erosion of the rights and freedoms they hold dear.

The Persecution of Intellectuals and Dissenters

The novel portrays the persecution of intellectuals and political dissidents as a harrowing consequence of an authoritarian regime’s consolidation of power. This aspect of the novel resonates with the suppression of free speech and the stifling of dissent that occurs in various parts of the world today. Journalists, academics, and activists who challenge the status quo face threats, imprisonment, and even violence in some countries, echoing the events in the book. The protection of free speech and the defense of those who seek to hold those in power accountable continue to be essential in the contemporary world. In today’s world, the persecution of intellectuals, journalists, and political dissidents is not limited to a specific time or place. It is a global concern that demands our attention and action. As “It Can’t Happen Here” vividly illustrates, the suppression of dissent and the persecution of those who question authority can have devastating consequences for a society’s freedom and progress. The novel reminds us of the critical role played by intellectuals, journalists, and activists in upholding the principles of free speech and democracy. Their courage and dedication to the truth are essential for countering authoritarianism and ensuring that voices of dissent are not silenced.


In conclusion, “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis is not just a historical artifact but a timeless literary work that offers critical insights into the fragility of democracy and the factors that can lead to the rise of authoritarianism. Its relevance in today’s world is striking, as it sheds light on the dangers of populism, propaganda, complacency, and the erosion of democratic norms. This novel serves as a sobering warning for societies to remain vigilant in protecting the principles of democracy, civil liberties, and human rights. The lessons of the past, as depicted in this novel, provide invaluable guidance for safeguarding our democratic values in the present and the future. As we navigate a complex and ever-changing political landscape, the messages and themes of “It Can’t Happen Here” remind us of our responsibility to protect and preserve the democratic ideals we hold dear. In an age when populism, propaganda, complacency, and the persecution of intellectuals and dissenters persist, the novel encourages us to remain vigilant, engage in critical thinking, and actively work to defend the principles of democracy for generations to come. Through understanding and applying these lessons, we can ensure that the ominous phrase “It can’t happen here” remains nothing more than a reminder of the responsibility we all bear to protect our freedoms.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis about?

“It Can’t Happen Here” is a novel by Sinclair Lewis that tells the story of the rise of an authoritarian regime in the United States during the 1930s. The plot revolves around the ascent of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a populist leader who exploits public fears and divisions to gain power and transform the nation into an authoritarian state.

What are the central themes of the novel?

The central themes of the novel include the erosion of democracy, the rise of populist leadership, the power of propaganda, the role of ordinary citizens, and the persecution of intellectuals and dissenters.

How does the novel relate to the modern world?

“It Can’t Happen Here” remains relevant today as it mirrors the rise of populist leaders globally. The novel’s warnings about the dangers of populism, propaganda, complacency, and the erosion of democratic norms are particularly pertinent in the contemporary political landscape.

What can we learn from the novel about the erosion of democracy?

The novel illustrates how a democratic society can swiftly decline into authoritarianism under the right circumstances. It emphasizes the importance of safeguarding democratic norms and institutions to prevent this erosion.

How does the novel address the role of propaganda in shaping public opinion?

The novel highlights the power of propaganda in influencing public perception and swaying the masses. It is relevant in today’s world as it draws parallels to the manipulation of information and the spread of disinformation through the internet and social media.

What is the novel’s message about the danger of complacency?

“It Can’t Happen Here” underscores the role that ordinary citizens play in the consolidation of authoritarian power. The novel serves as a call to action, reminding citizens of their responsibility to actively protect and preserve democratic principles.