Racism and Ethnocentrism in Literature Additional Biography

Chicano Authors

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Chicano literature can be described as originating at the end of the Mexican American War in 1848. After the war, many people who had been Mexicans living in northwestern Mexico found themselves to be Mexicans living in a larger southwest portion of the United States. These Mexicans were given the option of remaining in the United States as citizens or returning to Mexico. Many remained in the United States, becoming Americans but retaining Mexican culture, language, and traditions. The oral tradition is vital in Mexican American literature, and many of these oral forms, such as the folktale, folk drama, legend, and corrido were popular and artistically significant. The corrido is a ballad form that often is used to render contemporary social issues. Beginning in the 1850’s, corridos were sung about the border violence in south Texas. The corrido has proved itself to be long-lived; during World War II, corridos were composed about General Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific. César Chávez was celebrated in corridos in the 1960’s. The form continued into the late twentieth century, at which time corridos were sung about violence in the border region, immigration, romance, unemployment, drug traffic, and other social issues.

New Mexico was the center of Chicano literary activity at least until World War II. Las primicias (first fruits), a collection of lyric poems, was published by...

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European American Authors

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, President Abraham Lincoln is said to have described her as the little lady who started the big war. Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Or, Life Among the Lowly (1852), with its portrayal of the miserable condition of slaves, generated many imitations and adaptations of her work and aroused the indignation of thousands of readers against slavery. Another highly popular work of fiction in the nineteenth century, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) shows in a scathing (rather than in Stowe’s sentimental) tone the American mentality about slavery. Huck befriends the runaway slave Jim on a raft as they travel down the Mississippi, although Huck knows that to do so is against the laws, customs, and perceptions of the Southern culture in which he was bred. When Huck decides that he will “go to hell” for resisting the institution of slavery and tears up the letter to Miss Watson that would result in Jim’s return to slavery, he places himself on the side of those who recognize slavery as an evil. Another example of Twain’s depiction of racism is the passage in which Huck is questioned by a white woman about his boat. When Huck explains that a cylinder head was blown out, the woman asks if anyone was killed. Huck replies that no one was hurt and that a Negro was killed. The woman replies that it was lucky because sometimes people get hurt. Huck is pretending to follow the assumptions of this...

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Jewish American Authors

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Although Jews first arrived on the North American continent in 1654, they made relatively little cultural impact on North America until large-scale immigration began in the 1880’s. Predictably, the literary impact of American Jewry began with the generations that were born of the immigrants. These generations (in a pattern similar to that recalled in many works of Asian American literature and in such Chicano works as Pocho, for example) were reared in the new nation, spoke the new language, and thus experienced difficulty in establishing identities that bridged the old and the new cultures. Writers of these generations include Delmore Schwartz, Saul Bellow, Isaac Rosenfeld, and Norman Mailer.

Jewish American literature in English began to flower after World War II. Early postwar works include Rosenfeld’s Passage from Home (1946), Lionel Trilling’s The Middle of the Journey (1947), Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949), Mailer’s Barbary Shore (1951), and Bellow’s The Victim (1947) and Seize the Day (1956). Jewish American writers produced a literature often characterized by dispossession. Examples of this literature of this period include Bellow’s Dangling Man (1944), Bernard Malamud’s The Assistant (1957), and E. L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel (1971). Another theme of Jewish American literature is Zionism; works on this theme include Meyer Levin’s My Father’s House (1947), In Search (1950), and The Obsession (1973).

In 1976, Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Other novels by Bellow include The Adventures of Augie March (1953), Herzog (1964), and Humboldt’s Gift (1975). Another Jewish American writer who has won the Nobel Prize in Literature (in 1978) is Isaac Bashevis Singer. Extremely prolific, Singer has published autobiographies, journalism, novels, plays, and collections of short stories. Novels include The Family Moskat (1950), which was his first publication in English. Singer writes in Yiddish and is the towering example of the literature of American Jewry in that language; this literature began with the large-scale immigration of Yiddish-speaking Jews to the United States in the 1880’s. Gimpel the Fool (1957), a collection of short stories, is perhaps Singer’s most widely read work.