What is the master narrative in the book A Different Mirror by Ronald Takaki?

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shaddox5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The central theme or narrative in A Different Mirror is that America is a diverse land with a diverse culture and that all groups inhabiting the United States have helped to better this nation throughout its history, despite the well known narratives that have been handed down through the centuries. Ronald Takaki makes a convincing claim that European settlers to this country have been viewed as the main actors on the stage of nation building, while sub-cultures have been limited by racist ways of thought.

Takaki puts his lens in front of the many divergent cultures that have been a part of the American experience and the reader is allowed to see the development of America through the perspectives of these groups.  Takaki argues that race is a social construction and that white Americans have used racism to advance their cause at the expense of minorities.

The social, economic, and political history of sub-groups such as the Native Americans, Irish, African Americans, Chinese, Mexicans, Jews, and Japanese are examined in depth. Throughout this inspection, a constant thread of racism is demonstrated to have been used as a way to keep these groups subservient to the macro-culture of America.  

Specific atrocities in American history are investigated (e.g., Trail of Tears, Japanese Internment) to further Takaki's claims that a choreographed attempt has been made on the part of Euro-Americans to stake a claim of dominance on the North American continent.

Takaki argues that the multi-cultural nature of the Americas has been out of focus for far too long.  He believes that beneath the veil of typical European dominated American history, one finds the true America, an America that should find its strength through diversity.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The master narrative, or central argument, of A Different Mirror is revealed in the subtitle "A History of Multicultural America." As Takaki argues, "the established scholarship has tended to define America too narrowly." His central contention is that the concept of "American" needs to be expanded to include the rich patchwork of ethnicities and racial groups that have been as important to shaping American history as the white men that have dominated the historical literature until the last forty years or so. His methodology is making this argument is to compare the experiences of different peoples in American history. For example, he devotes chapters to enslaved and free African-Americans, Irish immigrants, and Chinese laborers, comparing and contrasting their struggles to carve out a place within American society. Crucial to his argument is the idea that race and ethnicity are social and historical constructions, contingent on a number of specific factors including economics, labor systems, and other things. Takaki argues convincingly that an honest reckoning with our multiethnic past is essential to grappling with a future in which the nation is becoming increasingly diverse.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Takaki writes that the Master Narrative of American History is a filter through which Americans see others. He states that "according to this powerful and popular yet inaccurate story, our country was settled by European immigrants, and Americans are white" (page 4). The Master Narrative causes Americans to see fellow Americans who aren't white as different and lesser than whites.

The author writes that this narrative, including its falsehoods, is deeply ingrained in the American psyche, though the reality of the country is very different. Many cities and the state of California are more non-white than white, and the history of our country is the history of immigration, not only from Europe but also from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Takaki's book concentrates on the history of several groups in the US, including Black Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Irish Americans, Jewish Americans, Mexican Americans, and Muslim Americans to give a complete picture of the diversity of our nation's history and its people. 

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A Different Mirror

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