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Assimilation and its counter-narratives : twentieth-century European and South Asian immigrant narratives to the United States

  • Author(s): Arora, Kulvinder
  • et al.

This dissertation is an examination of twentieth-century immigrant literature in the United States. In the Two Worlds metaphor central to American Studies, immigrant assimilation is understood as the rejection of Old World traditions and the adoption of New World modernity. In this study, I examine immigrant novels and films that deconstruct the mythic narrative of assimilation implied by the metaphor of Two Worlds, and I argue that immigrant literatures cannot be thoroughly understood through the concept of assimilation. In Chapter One, I discuss Mary Antin's The Promised Land (1912), a novel of formation that accepts the Two Worlds metaphor as a starting premise even as it thematizes ethnic and gender difference that contradict a narrative of assimilation. In Chapter Two, I examine three ethnic novels of the interwar and wartime that subvert the Two Worlds metaphor: Henry Roth's Call It Sleep (1934), Pietro di Donato's Christ in Concrete (1939), and Anzia Yezierska's Red Ribbon on a White Horse (1959). In these two first chapters, I follow an Ethnic Studies approach to understanding cross-ethnic relations and racial formation within the U.S. In the next two chapters, I draw from Postcolonial and diaspora studies, in addition to U.S. Ethnic Studies, to analyze the representation of immigrant realities. In Chapter Three, I examine Bharati Mukherjee's Jasmine (1989), a South Asian American text, and compare the immigrant traditions of Antin's The Promised Land with Mukherjee' representation of assimilation. In the final chapter, I interpret two contemporary South Asian immigrant films, Deepa Mehta's Fire (1996) and Nisha Ganatra's Junky Punky Girlz (1995), in relation to the mythological Indian classic, the Ramayana. These South Asian American immigrant narratives, I argue, exemplify a departure from the assimilation narrative of earlier European immigrant writing

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