Pluralism Versus Assimilation in Literature Summary


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Noted writer Thomas Paine described the ethnic diversity of the United States, affirming that Europe, not England, was its parent company. Somewhat later Alexis de Tocqueville, writing about the United States, observed that Indians, blacks, and Europeans interacted with one another but did not amalgamate. Ralph Waldo Emerson, looking toward cohesiveness, however, predicted that Europeans, Africans, and what he called Polynesians would combine to form a new race, a new religion, and a new American state.

Assimilation takes place when people of diverse ethnic backgrounds are absorbed by the dominant group. One may also argue that when various groups coalesce into one new hybrid group, assimilation is also taking place. Pluralism exists when a society tolerates the continued independent existence of minority cultures.

Assimilation has been historically associated with the United States despite the segregation that has existed along racial and ethnic lines. In simple terms, assimilation represents an effort to make all cultures merge into the mainstream. Theoretically, minorities in the United States are assimilated into the lifestyle of the essentially white middle-class, whose values attain wide acceptance. From one point of view this process represents the control of the strong over the weak, but the procedure is generally considered as a means of raising the weak to the category of the strong.

Assimilation is generally accepted as a social force in the United States without being written into law. In Great Britain, Australia, and Canada, however, cultural pluralism has been declared as official governmental policy, instituted as a means of combining social cohesiveness with cultural diversity. Cultural pluralism, which is metaphorically compared to a mosaic or a salad bowl, does not attempt to cast all people into the same mold but grants cultural independence to minorities within the framework of social and political conformity. Peoples of diverse cultures with varying patterns of religion, behavior, color, and sometimes language co-exist within the boundaries of a single nation. This structure parallels the concept of multiculturalism in educational theory, which rejects monocultural assimilation in favor of understanding and acceptance of different cultures.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Glazer, Nathan, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, eds. Ethnicity: Theory and Experience. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970.

Greeley, Andrew M., ed. Ethnicity. New York: Seabury Press, 1977.

Kallen, Horace. Culture and Democracy in the United States. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1924.

Laumann, Edward O. Bonds of Pluralism. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1973.

Newman, William M. American Pluralism. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.