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By A. Kent

This booklet examines literature through African, local, and Jewish American novelists initially of the 20th century, a interval of radical dislocation from homelands for those 3 ethnic teams in addition to the interval while such voices verified themselves as valuable figures within the American literary canon.

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Additional resources for African, Native, and Jewish American Literature and the Reshaping of Modernism

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Each of the six novels examined here offers a different answer to the position of African, Native, and Jewish Americans in American culture and in modernity. While Mourning Dove’s and McNickle’s protagonists ultimately resist incorporation into American society even as they adapt to the modern, Chesnutt’s and Cahan’s protagonists still strive for, even if they do not fully attain, such inclusion. Hurston’s and Yezierska’s protagonists offer a third response, an attempt to mix the old with the new; Sara Smolinsky in Bread Givers acknowledges she must blend Jewish and American cultures while Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God brings the cosmopolitan to the rural.

Similarly, Mourning Dove’s editor claimed her novel Cogewea, the Half-Blood (1927) was a factual, historical account written by a “real” Indian. Despite such misreadings, the writers examined in this book resisted the genre pressures to write “real” accounts and instead chose to write fiction in response to the rapid changes of modernity. The following chapters examine in more depth six particularly intriguing, if not necessarily representative, novels by African, Native and Jewish American writers.

Yet one of the first major European novels, Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1605), provides a warning against such readings. Don Quixote chronicles a man who tries to literalize romances, a man who takes fiction to be fact, and as a result goes mad and lives a life of delusion. Mining texts for the factual knowledge they believe they can learn about another culture, readers of texts by ethnic writers often mimic Don Quixote’s error of confusing fact with fiction. For example, Cahan’s The Rise of David Levinsky (1917), a novel about an immigrant Jewish man’s rise to success in America, was often considered the writer’s autobiography, even though Cahan, a lifelong socialist, was never the millionaire that his fictional Levinsky was.

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