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American Ethnic Literature.

This solution provides some strategies for selecting and reflecting on the nature of American ethnic literature. The solution provides titles of American Ethnic novels, common themes in these works, and possible thesis arguments that you could make in your paper. The solution considers some of the following questions:

What makes American literature American?
What is literary canon? How does literary canon relate to what is going on in society?
What special challenges do ethnic writers have within the American literary experience?
How do ethnic writers define literature? How does that differ from the canon of traditional American literature?
What historical, socio-political, and cultural topics might be covered by ethnic writers? How does this differ from the canon of traditional American literature?
How are the American literary themes of liberty, opportunity and equality addressed in ethnic literature?

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The first thing I would suggest is to choose a particular novel or short story, or even author, that is an example of American ethnic literature. Choosing one literary text will make it easier to tease out the issues you need to address in your paper, because they will be embodied by characters and places you can identify with and analyse. I assume that this paper is for a course in which you have already read examples of American ethnic literature. Other examples, which may not be on your syllabus, are Dave Egger's "Zeitoun", Leslie Marmon Silko's "Ceremony," and Ruth Ozeki's "My Year of Meats." What these stories have in common with each other, and most likely with the texts you have read in class, is that the deal with issues of belonging, alienation, assimilation, authenticity, and cultural integrity. In some cases Ethnic literature will also deal with issues of prejudice and racism, as in James Baldwin's "Another Country." Something important to remember is that Ethnic literature does not have to be written my a first-generation immigrant--ethnic literature can be written by or about an individual or group who remains outside of the traditional American ethnic majority. This majority is generally characterized as Caucasian, protestant, and of remote European ancestry.

When you have chosen your text, try to focus on one character to begin with. I'll give an example that will hopefully help you think through the issues you'll want to address in your paper. For example, imagine you have a story about a girl whose parents have immigrated from Italy. She lives in New York. At the beginning of the novel, she feels isolated from American society. She begins to have contact with members of the American ethnic majority, and this causes her to feel ashamed of her Italian heritage. She shuns the customs that her parents maintain. However, at the crises point of the novel, she realizes that her new friends--friends outside of her ethnic group--can never truly understand her. She then comes to the realization that though she admires and wants to work toward assimilation, she must also honor and respect her Italian heritage, since that is what makes her unique.

Something to address in a ...

Solution Summary

This solution provides some strategies for selecting and reflecting on the nature of American ethnic literature. Some of the questions this solution considers are:

What makes American literature American?
What is literary canon? How does literary canon relate to what is going on in society?
What special challenges do ethnic writers have within the American literary experience?
How do ethnic writers define literature? How does that differ from the canon of traditional American literature?
What historical, socio-political, and cultural topics might be covered by ethnic writers? How does this differ from the canon of traditional American literature?
How are the American literary themes of liberty, opportunity and equality addressed in ethnic literature?

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