3 Immigrant Identities in U.S. American Literature - Stephen Crane’s Maggie ´A Girl of the Streets´ and T.C. Boyle’s ´The Tortilla Curtain´ - Exam thesis/Zulassungsarbeit
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The American Dream - the US: an ideal country for immigration? Table Of Contents 1 Introduction 1.1 Topic The United States of America has a long history of immigration. For centuries, people have been coming to this country in search of new lives. Immigration has shaped the land of endless possibilities for more than 200 years, creating a foundation of diversity for the country. The story of people from many different lands coming to form one nation is multifaceted. Each of these peoples followed its own path to becoming American.1 That is the reason why the Native Americans nowadays only account for one per cent of the population.2 1.2 Definition of the “American Dream” But what exactly is the American Dream? The term American Dream was first used by James Adams in his book “The Epic of America”, which was written in 1931. He states the American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”3 Since nobody has yet been able to come up with a generally accepted definition of the American Dream.4 Some people say the American Dream would be the deep-seated belief that everyone can improve his standard of living, if he leads his life morally justified and works hard and motivated. For other ones it is just about freedom and wealth, while other people think, the equality is the most important point, like Jessy Jackson:

Immigrant Identities in U.S. American Literature:

Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets and

T.C.

Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain


Table of Contents

1 Introduction 3

2 Multicultural America? The Concepts of Ethnicity and Identity in the American Context 4

2.1 Identity: Us vs.

Them 4

2.2 Ethnicity and Race 6

2.3 Americanness 6

2.4 Otherness 10

2.5 Immigration and Immigrant Identities in Literary History 13

3 Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets 15

3.1 Maggie’s Otherness 16

3.2 Violence, Fear and Poverty as Fixed Components of Life 19

4 T.

C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain 23

4.1 Emphasis on Ethnicity as Otherness in T.C. Boyle 24

4.2 Violence and Fear, Borders and Boundaries, Territory and Intrusion 27

5 From ‘Melting Pot’ to Multicultural America? 30

5.1 Hypocrisy and False Morals 30

5.2 Prejudice and Racism 34

5.3 Deconstruction of the American Dream 37

6 Conclusion 40

7 Works Cited 42


Immigrant Identities in U.S.

American Literature:

Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets and

T.C.

Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain


  1. Introduction

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame.

With conquering limps astride from land to land

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightening, and her name

Mother of Exiles.

From her beacon-handed

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp b.....[read full text]

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The second part of this paper, chapter 3 and 4, will be studying Maggie and The Tortilla Curtain separately, focusing primarily on the representations of the protagonists’ otherness and the ‘realities’ of their lives. In the fifth chapter they are brought together, examining the authors’ representations, outlooks and, if possible, opinions on issues strongly connected to immigration and building a life in a new country: the ‘clashing’ of values, stereotypes and prejudices, sometimes racism, and the deconstruction of the American Dream, still representing the main pulling force of America to foreigners.



  1. Multicultural America? The Concepts of Ethnicity and Identity in the American Context

The chapter below aims at providing a very brief overview of certain key concepts regarding American immigration: questions of identity, ethnicity and race, Americanness and Otherness, and their treatment in literature over time.

It will become clear in the following, but it shall nonetheless be stated at this point already: These concepts can neither be clearly defined nor strictly differentiated, and what will be presented here is only the smallest glimpse of what could be and has been said about these concepts, their meanings being subject to frequent changes in discourse.


    1. Identity: Us vs.

      Them

The question of identity, of who we are and what makes us ‘us’ has been raised time and time again and still is debated by various persons and scholars belonging to many different disciplines. Identity as a construct is hard to grasp and almost impossible to define (Huntington 21). In the following the aim is not to clearly state what identity, in general, American or immigrant, is, but some ideas concerning identity shall be given to enable a better analysis of the concept in the literary representations discussed here.

As a starting point, Samuel Huntington defines identity as “an individual’s or a group’s sense of self.

It is a product of self-consciousness, that I or we possess distinct qualities as an entity that differentiates me from you and us from them” (21).1 He farther mentions that an individual may define and redefine multiple identities within certain groups, but that identities of groups are usually more stable. He understands identities to be constructed and “imagined selves” (Huntington 22), that are situational, meaning that the aspects of his or her identity a person stresses most may change depending on the situ.....

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Race, in itself a rather problematic term, is also described as socially constructed, because “there are no longer (and may have never been) pure and fixed racial entities” (162). Noel Ignatiev agrees, saying that “no biologist has ever been able to provide a satisfactory definition of ‘race’ […] [hence] [t]he only logical conclusion is that people are members of different races because they have been assigned to them” (1).

Despite this, Halter states that the “realities of race persist as powerful constants in the dynamics of everyday life in the United States […] [as] [r]ace […] still matters, shaping perceptions and influencing behaviors at all levels of society” (162). She farther mentions that the classification of a certain immigrant group or people as a race or an ethnic group is subject to change, depending on historical circumstances (Halter 163).

Ignatiev’s How the Irish Became White shows precisely that phenomenon, examining how the Irish went from oppressed to oppressor in the eighteenth and nineteenth century (2), which he explains does not mean that “they all became rich, or even ‘middle class’” (Ignatiev 3), as Crane’s representation in Maggie, written and set at the turn to the twentieth century, shows.


    1. Americanness

In consideration of Halter’s statement that race and ethnicity are still a reality in everyday life in the US, how can American identities be described, how those of the ‘Other’, here mainly Irish and Latino?4 Individual, group and also nation’s identities are symbolic and discursive constructions (Wodak et al.) and “can be contested and changed” (Olneck 204).

Michael Olneck shows that this is particularly true for the United States as it is neither “a patria […] nor an ancient ‘homeland’” (204, emphasis in original) and thus could not necessarily count on the “durability of the nation” (204), which is why he sees “anxiety about holding together” (205) as a founding element in American culture and identity.

The fact that the US, from its very beginning, consisted of a very diverse population, whose diversity is to this day increasing still, and, in connection to that, the strong belief in individualism complicates recognition for what is shared, and therefore hinders linking America’s diverse people to one another (Olneck 205). Nonetheless, there is a sense of Americanness and certain shared values.

Important for these are the often linked ideas of “America [being] a nation of immigrants and […] American identity [being] defined […] by a set of political principles, the American Creed” (Huntington 37), first proposed by the Founding Fathers, later on by William Tyler Page and officially recognized by the House of .....

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To evaluate ‘Americanness’ farther, Halter’s statement, supported by many of her fellow scholars, shall be repeated: in the US and for American identity, race still matters (162).

In the introduction to their anthology Growing Up Ethnic in America Maria Mazzziotti Gillan and Jennifer Gillan also emphasize “the complicated terrain of race and ethnicity” (x) and how both “have shaped the identity of […] [the] nation” (xvii). So does Joseph Skerret, questioning why “issues of identity revolving around […] race and ethnicity seem particularly powerful in the United States” (1).

Reasons are found again in history. White Americans, as stated above, have “sharply distinguished themselves from Indians, blacks, Asians and Mexicans” (Huntington 53) yet today often no longer acknowledge racial and ethnic differences as still existing, while at the same time assuming ‘whiteness’ as the norm (Skerrett 1), which is farther enhanced by media representations (Mazziotti Gillan/Gillan xi).

Paradoxically, the same group is recently developing fears of becoming a minority within the next few decades (Alba). This might be taken as an indication that although often denying or at least “wishing race and ethnicity not to matter” (Skerrett 1), awareness exists to a certain degree that “racial difference […] remains […] to maintain the hierarchy established by conquest, enslavement, and colonization [as] [t]he emphasis placed upon physical differences between peoples was always to the benefit of the dominant white European (or American)” (Skerrett 5).

The shockingly growing numbers of supporters of ‘white supremacist’ ideas are unwilling to give that up, especially now that the President of the United States has decided to turn a blind eye on racism in his country (Landler), as recent events have shown.6 However, limiting these fears to extremist views would be misleading. According to Robert Jones “the country’s changing demographics and culture, especially over the past decade as the country has ceased to be a majority white Christian nation” worries parts of the population, who consider these changes as a threat to “a core white Christian American identity and perceive themselves to be under siege as the country changes around them”.

Others recognize these changes as positive towards an evolving American identity, which is increasing in strength through diversity (Jones). Jones states that the American people are aware of growing “different vision[s] for America’s identity and future. His article is called “The Collapse of American Identity”, for that not to happen he stresses the absolute necessity of “weaving a new national narrative in which all Americans can s.....

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Huntington lists “individualism and the work ethic […] [and] moralism and the reform ethic” (69-80) as core elements of that culture. The idea that through one’s own responsibility and hard work and by “playing by the rules” (Clinton qtd. in Hochschild 18),8 basically anyone can make a better life for themselves is the central element of the dream of the nation.

Few sayings are linked to the United States as much as ‘from rags to riches’. The American Dream is what brought so many foreigners to America, and what continues to be an important push-and-pull factor today. The analysis of Maggie and The Tortilla Curtain will question this ideal, arguing whether the American Dream may be exactly that: a dream.

As Nicholas Coles and Janet Zandy put it:

While it is true that America has produced some rags-to-riches success stories, and that it remains to this day a country where immigrants seek refuge and economic opportunity; the larger historical picture is more complicated and less sanguine. […] Those who were not of the elite propertied class had to struggle for their rights within a capitalistic system that offered opportunity for some, but also exploited, suppressed, and limited the freedom of many others. (xxi)


    1. Otherness

Defining ‘Otherness’ and other identities, more specifically, immigrant identities is only possibly in delimitation to American identity.

The protagonists in the literary works discussed here are foreigners or of foreign descent, in Maggie Irish, in The Tortilla Curtain Mexican and thus the attempt of analyzing this perceived and real ‘otherness’ shall be made.

It has been shown that immigration has been a part of the United States throughout its entire history, but has changed over time and still is changing.

When comparing the ten primary sending countries of the 1960s (Fix/Passel 25) to the ones today, the only reappearing country is Mexico (CAP Immigration/Nicholson). As people from all over the world come to the United States, making it a highly ethnical diverse country, the agreement on certain common values is undoubtedly an important fact.....

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He states that his book “asks how the Catholic Irish, an oppressed race in Ireland, became part of an oppressing race in America. It is an attempt to reassess immigrant assimilation and the formation (or non-formation) of an American working class” (2), i.e. how a them’ turned into an ‘us’. A people who were fleeing religious and “caste oppression and […] material conditions […] comparable to those of an American slave” (Ignatiev 2), who were first cramped into “districts that became centers of crime, vice, and disease […] [where they were] thrown together with free Negroes […] [with whom they] fought […], socialized and occasionally intermarried, and developed a common culture of the lowly” (Ignatiev 2-3) managed to obtain “entry into the white race” (Ignatiev 4).

This shows how ethnicity and race is yet again a factor of identity, and for the Irish was an option to cast off their Otherness. In order to do so, they were willing to betray “their closest social class competitors […]. The newly arrived Irish-Americans judged that the best way of gaining acceptance as good citizens and to counter the Nativist movement was to cooperate in the continued oppression of African Americans” (McDonald).

This behavior was strongly opposed by their fellow Irishmen on the other side of the Atlantic, and a letter published in the Liberator in 1854 said “passage to the United States seems to produce the same effect upon the exile of Erin as the eating of the forbidden fruit did upon Adam and Eve. In the morning, they were pure, loving, and innocent; in the evening, guilty” (qtd. in McDonald).10 In the same matter Ignatiev concludes: “[i]n becoming white the Irish ceased to be Green” (3).

Beth O’Leary, as her name suggests herself of Irish descent, is a little softer with the Irish-American.

Her dissertation deals with Irish-American narration throughout the twentieth century, and in her opinion “an Irish identity was given up in America and eventually pieced back together again. […] The Irish-American narrative tells of a rise from poverty and oppression to American comfort and respectability. There is pride in this rise, but there is also loss” (ii).

The Irish the US for her are “a people who have thrived in America despite facing oppression on both sides of the Atlantic, […] a people in diaspora […] [who have] preserved […] a sense of their own ethnic uniqueness when faced with the anxiety of losing themselves in a dull, if profitable, American whiteness” (O’Leary1-2).

People have been coming to the United States form Southern America and the ‘Hispanic’ countries for quite some time now, too, but as attitudes towards how and to which extent immigrants should adapt to American culture have changed notably since the Irish were the ‘new immigrants’, Latino identity seems to be more important for self-perception for members of these groups.

In her book The New Americans? Heather Mohamed questions how “the ‘Latino’ experience” (xiii) shapes the identity and its recognition. Mohamed proposes a “politics-to-identity link” (11), the influence of political debate on identity, outlining a comparison of protests to the 1994 Proposition 187and the 2005 H.R. 4437.11 In 1994 the Latino organizations rallied against the referendum, aiming at creating a sense of unity within the group by promoting foreign flags, the Mexi.....

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