America Is in the Heart Essay - Critical Context

Carlos Bulosan

Critical Context

At least two other important and sensational autobiographies by minority writers postdate America Is in the Heart in exposing racial prejudice in the United States: Richard Wright’s Black Boy (1945) and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952). All three works offer landmark exposes about racial issues, and Bulosan’s book has the added distinction of being the earliest important immigrant novel from the Republic of the Philippines. All Philippine and Philippine-American writers since Bulosan have been influenced by it, and all published Asian and Asian-American writers are aware of it. The book shows an early dream of freedom and democracy that is disappointed by experiences of deprivation and persecution. The major themes in all of Bulosan’s writings are class struggle, national solidarity, the alienation of individuals, and the struggle to resist what he calls the “dehumanizing pressures of imperialist America.” The narrator senses a new heroism growing in him as he matures and loses his naïveté.

The use of the Robinson Crusoe ethic is particularly important to students of literature and society. Bulosan compares himself to Crusoe because both are idealists, both are travelers and searchers (physically and mentally), and both embark on a quest and then find themselves marooned in a new world where they survive by their wits. Bulosan is unflaggingly confident that he will not only personally survive but also help others to improve their lives. His idealism is messianic in proportion, and this line of thought is reinforced by frequent allusions in the book to the soul as shipwrecked, adrift, moorless, and abandoned. At work in the fields, however, Bulosan feels his peasant heritage returning, reaffirming his kinship with the soil and “rediscovering myself in the lives” of his fellow workers.