Tragically, but for obvious reasons, not many pulp magazines were preserved. For one thing, the cheap paper could not survive the decades without care. Another reason being that, like most magazines, people threw them away after they were done reading them. However, enough survived to analyze the style, and the style itself lives on today.
Today, we hear racist and mysoginist and we get ready to dish out our dirtiest looks to the culprit. Pulp however is just a product of it's time. Stories that can reveal to us today the anxieties and values of men in the 20's and into the 40's
Cheaply manufactured and considered low-brow, not many pulps survived their golden age, or even after they had been read in most cases. Yet this label of second class and it's immense popularity is what makes the genre so informative of the popular culture of the time. In pulp, we can see the very cultural limits of the time, as they were pushed and pushed in these stories, but never quite crossed. All the racism and mysoginism of the time is laid to bare as well as all the anxieties of those culturally tumoltous decades from the 1920's and into the 40's (Perry 5).
Perhaps the most important thing to know about the pulps is their target audience: men. This is why stories were often so sexualized and violent.
Young male labourers, generally with little to no education or financial resources to speak of, were the target audiences. This is seen in detective pulps where masculine characters show confidence and swagger, especially towards women. This at a time when women were entering the workforce which was once considered an exclusively male sphere (Perry 3).
Writing for men also affected the stories themselves. The guys just wanted a cheap thrill, an escape. So the writers delivered.
A signature quality of the pulp writing style was an avoidance of character development. There was just the good guy and the bad guy (Perry 10) Bad guys were easy to spot as ugliness or disfiguration were the hallmarks of any villain (Perry 14).
More often than not the story was moved along with dialogue. Sentences were short and sweet. Perhaps the quintessential example of the pulp writing style is the detective.
NPR's Renee Montagne interviewed one Otto Penzler, author of The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, who shared his opinions. Otto Penzler told NPR "The kind of writing in the world of literature that everyone had been familiar with was Henry James with long sentences, long paragraphs. And then Ernest Hemingway came along and Dashiell Hammett came along and they started to write short, quick, clipped sentences that didn't require lots and lots of description. The pulps provided the perfect springboard for that literary tone".
These men influenced Carroll John Daly's writing style, resulting in such insulting remarks as:
"I didn't like his face and I told him so." (The Third Murderer by Daly, 1923). Or quick depictions:
"But over her provocative beauty, lay a hard sophistication as brightly polished as a new nickel." (Stag Party by Charles G. Booth, 1933). These easy to digest sentences were what the young men who read these pulps liked (Montagne).
As the pulp industry developed, some publishers found that serializing a character would bring in more regular readers. When the industry realized this, the genre began to evolve, but the focus on glorifying the masculine remained dominant.
Pulp encouraged a certain amount of hero worship with their stories. Characters with magazines dedicated to their exploits such as Doc Savage or Tarzan had more to work with. Having specific and developed origins, histories and qualities allowed them to return again and again. This was the kind of story your working class male needed at the time. Many economists and historians agree crime rates during The Great Depression went up, and readers looking for escapes needed stories about men who could reliably fight back and win the day (Perry 23).
These concepts of manly men are still idealized today with more current figure like Superman, or real life heros like SEAL Team Six. Men who are able to fearlessly run and gun and punch their way out of any situation. These themes create blockbusters and start television sensations. All refined and made timeless in a ten cent magazine.