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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Threatening “the Good Order”: West Meets East in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Cheat and John Updike’s Terrorist

  • Author(s): Freeman, Bradley M.
  • et al.

Despite almost a hundred years of separation, both Cecil B. DeMille’s film The Cheat (1915) and John Updike’s novel Terrorist (2006) deploy a clear-cut territorial divide between Western and Eastern spaces in order to envision a unified American space. These narratives superimpose a “natural” division on these historically opposed spaces and thereby suggest that any contact between these spaces will have dangerous consequences. These consequences include the potential dissolution and eventual destruction of American productivity, surveillance, and territorial integrity. DeMille’s film and Updike’s novel represent America as a nation-state that must be protected from the East. In 1915, The Cheat warned against an interracial America and the upsurge in immigration that characterized the turn of the century. Nearly a century later, Terrorist presupposes an interracial America but still constructs an East that threatens the security of America. While registering the particular concerns of two distinct historical moments, these narratives represent a larger attempt in American aesthetics to imagine an East that jeopardizes the utopian possibilities of an overly idealized American space.

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