Ethnicity and the American Identity Comparison Essay by RightRiters

Ethnicity and the American Identity
This paper presents a review and comparison of three novels, focusing on the themes of ethnicity and American identity: Cahan's "Yekl", Yezierska's "The Bread Givers" and Morrison's "The Bluest Eye"
# 17092 | 900 words | 4 sources | 2002 | US
Published on Jan 22, 2003 in Ethnic Studies (North American) , Literature (American) , English (Comparison)

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The paper explores the theme of racial identity in these three novels. The similarities in plot are highlighted For example; each novel's plot is centered on a character's attempt to transcend their racial otherness in order to be accepted by American society. The paper concludes with a discussion on Randolph Bourne's essay "Trans-national America", relating it to Morrison's desire to avoid racial hierarchy, and showing how the protagonists of the novels do not fit into this multi-cultural scheme.

From the Paper:

"The crisis at the center of Abraham Cahan's story is presented as a conflict between Jake's ethnic past, his racial otherness in America and his ambition to be, in his words, "a Yankee". Early on in the story, Yekl, in his ambition to be an American, changes his name to Jake, because the name Yekl is associated with a Russian past he is not able to "reconcile with the actualities of his American present". Essentially, one cannot be a Russian Jew and an American, to be an American one needs to repudiate their ethnic past. This crisis gets even further developed when Jake's wife arrives from Russia.

To Jake, his wife is an embodiment of the ethnic identity he wishes to efface. When he first sees her off the boat "his heart had sunk at the sight of his wife's uncouth and un-American appearance." For her part, she looks at Jake in his American garb and sees barely a semblance of the man she married. For Cahan, the process of assimilation and Americanization is a process that destroys one's ethnic identity, and the foil of Jake and Gitl illustrates a sort of before and after picture meant to demonstrate that."

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