Immigrant Novels in the USAll aspects of immigrant novels can be discussed. Specifically, I am interested in the sociology and linguistics, as well as the multiculturalism of immigrant novels. I...

Immigrant Novels in the US

All aspects of immigrant novels can be discussed. Specifically, I am interested in the sociology and linguistics, as well as the multiculturalism of immigrant novels. I also have a specific issue regarding these novels.

 I have noticed certain characteristics that seem to be constant in almost all immigrant novelsDESIRE:The protagonist yearns for love, financial security and self sufficiency, religious freedom, political openness, making the protagonist eave his/her homeland.

CONTROL: With desire, comes control -- control from family, community, church, government -- trying to rein in the protagonist, to stop him/her from fulfilling what he or she desires.

DISPLACEMENT: Nevertheless, the protagonist leaves because of poverty, persecution or simply to look for a better life. I am defining displacement as an inverse relationship between Self and Place.

INTEGRATION: Finally, the protagonist begins to get accepted in his/her adopted land. He/she finds work, often marries or has a relationship with someone from the adopted land; learns the language, begins to get used to the new culture. NOTE: this does not happen to all protagonoists. Some of them fail to get integrated, return to the home land, or, worse, die.

I will be grateful for some response.


Expert Answers
ssengupta eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In fact, I am trying to get Junot Diaz to come to my college (Boricua College in NYC). Diaz is, simply, brilliant!

While reading Oscar Wao is difficult at first ( I was thinking that eighteenth century readers used to straight laced novelists like Samuel Richardson must have had similar difficulties with Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones).

Diaz, like Fielding, aggressively breaks with the current novelistic traditions. His narrative is not only devastatingly irreverant, it is downright "messy" as far as plots go, the "mess" created by his many mock annotations (again, a la, an eighteenth century Jonathan Swift -- mockingly erudite, and full of cursing and swearing).

But more importantly -- and relevant to the theory I'm trying to create for the immigrant novel -- is the fact that the Desire-Control-Displacement-Integration paradigm I've discovered in "straight forward" immigrant novels is completely scrambled in Oscar Wao. This fascinates me, for, unlike many other theorists, I'm actually delighted when my theory does not work with some novels after working for most. This means that there is a fissure in my theoretical construct. Now, fissure is not a defect. Rather, in the pluralistic, multicultural world we live in, constantly throwing up newer and different works, fissures open up space for further complexities in a phenomenon, and, hence, further dialogues. (You can sense that I am a post-structuralist -- the hyphen is intentional). 

I welcome such things, and specially welcome Diaz and his brilliant work.

Therefore, Mr. Blazedale (I wish I knew your real name!), I am grateful to you for bringing back Oscar to my thought process. So far as I understand, this novel may be regrded as post-integrational; i.e., the character, Oscar Wao, having gone through all the phases of Desire-Control-Displacement, tells us his story during this last phase, and it seems to me that, like, the protagonists of some immigrant novels (Bharati Mukherjee's Leave it To Me) he does not integrate. BUT (and this is a major caveat) the other characters in the novel, almost equally as important as the protagonist, do.

Finally, the narrator of this novel, who addresses the reader with his constant intreventions in the story, by way of footnotes, annotations and even a ventriloqual voice, , is almost like another character of the novel. He  certainly survives though Oscar doesn't, and lives to write the novel. The fuku (or the curse of the Wao family) may have overpowered the family, but he, the narrator, lives to tell the tale. In other words, integration in this novel happens at a metaphysical level by the implied author.

Yes, Blazedale, I am seriously thinking of adding this novel to the ones I have decided to include in my book, and write a complete chapter on it. But, I am a little daunted. After all, I am not equal to Junot Diaz' brilliance and might make a hash of it.

Let me know what you think.

ssengupta eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I am really encouraged by the many ideas and responses to my suggestion that immigrant novels go through the four phases of desire, control, displacement and integration. There are many novels that fit this paradigm.

As I pointed out in one of my posts before, that is precisely one of the problems my theory faces. If a wide variety of works carry these features then how can I justify it in terms of the IMMIGRANT NOVEL IN THE UNITED STATES alone?

I am still struggling for answers.

One of the ways desire-control-displacement-integration MAY be different from the novels mentioned (except that The Joy Luck Club is one of the novels being discussed in my book) is multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism has become a buzz word, I know. But I am applying the term to analyze the novels I am studying in terms of the following questions: a) How do the authors address ethnicity or their cultural identification in the novels? Are they any different from "settler" novels? b) immigration itself is an explosive issue in the US; do these novels throw any significant light on the problem of regulating immigration? c) are the displacement and integrational processes further complicated by our taking a multicultural viewpoint; in other words, to just take one example, are desire and control from the multicultural perspective any different from the same phenomena depicted in other novels in the US or elsewhere? finally d) do immigrant novelists, writing in the US, handle the English language differently from, say, the immigrant novelists in Britain; again, as an example, is the language of Amy Tan substantively different from that of Salman Rushdie?

These are the questions I am tackling in my book, and any ideas on them would be vastly appreciated. Of course, when the time comes I will certainly acknowledge the members who are participating in the discussion, if the book ever gets published!

Thank You

ssengupta eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have only a superficial familiarity with "The Jungle." Even so, the novel certainly has many ingredients of the immigrant novel, although one of the primary (and required) aspects for my theoretical framework is that the author has to be an immigrant in the US. Sinclair, as far as I know, is not an immigrant, but comes from a settler family.

One of the problems with my theory is that Desire, Control, Displacement and Integration happen as a trajectory of events in many works of literature, not just in immigrant novels, including Homer's two epics! If I hope to get my work published I have to get past the "watch dog" literary pundits who act as readers for publishing houses. They will certainly ask me the question you have asked: if my paradigm is valid, why is not valid for many other nonimmigrant novels, like Sinclair's "The Jungle." And if it is valid for all works of literature, then what is so special about my theory?

That is why I thank you very much for your response.

I actually have a (tentative) answer for the hypothetical question posed above. If you or any other person is interested in continuing this discussion I will very gladly participate.

Thanks very much.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the other posts, especially the mention of The Kite Runner, Joy Luck Club, and Willa Cather's works (I would also look at O, Pioneers! by Cather).

Another immigrant work that certainly demonstrates your four themes of desire, control, displacement, and integration is Dave Eggers' book What Is the What.  It loosely follows the story of one of Sudan's "Lost Boys," Valentino Achak Deng.  As Valentino goes through various experiences here in the States, he definitely illustrates the different "stages" of immigration.

Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would think The Kite Runner may be seen as having many of the elements you describe.  The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan is another, and there are novels by Isabel Allende that you might find relevant to your inquiry. Jhumpa Lahiri is a writer you should read, too, in this vein, particularly The Namesake.  It is wonderful to me that we are seeing such a diversity of immigrant literature today.  This gives us fascinating glimpses into other cultures and insight into how complex the assimilation process really is.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These are not the typical "immigrant" novels per se, but as I was reading the other posts, these stories popped into my mind as fitting the criteria listed above:

The Lord of the Flies

The Metamorphosis (all except the last...he dies rather than becoming accepted as his new self)

A Raisin in the Sun--more about race disputes within a country than different nationalities, but still, the pursuit of power, control, displacement, and acceptance is evident.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another classic is Willa Cather's My Antonia, The enduring nature of the Scandinavian immigrants who came to Nebraska is evidenced in this novel as, filled with the pioneer spirit, they endured brutal cold and poverty on the harsh winter praireis.

My Antonia continues to be read as a novel because of its universal appeal of faith in humanity and as a narrative about the rewards that can come at the end of a long struggle in which individuals persevere.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think you can combine your points on displacement and integration with an overall discussion on identity. Key to this is the difference between first generation immigrants and second and third generation immigrants, which is something that the works of Amy Tan, for example, majors on. This is a highly interesting phenomenon as you have first generation immigrants remaining true to their culture in a foreign land very often, with their children who are born in the "new" country often refusing to learn the language and culture of their parents. Fascinating.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's interesting to see Sinclair's "The Jungle" in the light you identify.  Certainly, the themes of integration are placed into strong context, as well as the idea of displacement as the Lithuanian community is really displaced from where they hail as they work in the Yards.  If there is a control aspect evident, it would be in the fact that Jurgis is so dominated by the materialistic and capitalistic order that dehumanizes so much like him.

alexb2 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Junot Diaz writes wonderfully about the immigrant experience in the United States. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao matches up very well with what you're looking for.

freezelikemee | Student

Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario talks about immigration from Honduras to the U.S, and how hard life is in Honduras and a mothers reason for leaving her children to work in the U.S so she can raise enough money to feed and meet childrens needs. She leaves her children for more than twelve years. It's based on a true life story.

sandym16 | Student

I assigned The Kite Runner as summer reading for my AP students last year. We discussed all the elements you mentioned. I think your hypothesis is valid for "The Jungle" as well. I think you could make the arguement that, at one point or another, everyone goes through an experience where they are or feel like an immigrant-a person entering an unknown territory with the hopes of acceptance and success.

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