Within and without margins: Cross -cultural spaces in novels by Louise Erdrich, Maxine Hong Kingston, Alice Walker

Dianne Comiskey, University of Rhode Island


The art of storytelling is a universal activity whose form depends on culture and historical context, and the novel is one of the most popular narrative discourses of contemporary American storytelling. As a storytelling genre in America, however, the novel presents complexities unique to American culture because the notion of defining American culture itself is a difficult task that produces ambiguous results. We are a country of many cultures; therefore, our artists' approaches to writing the novel are as varied as our ethnicities.^ I have examined the cultural influences that shape the narrative fiction of Louise Erdrich, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Alice Walker. Because of their historically-marginalized cultural positions, these writers create their art from unique vantage points which have evolved simultaneously from within and without mainstream influences. As a result, their literary work reflects an integration of cultures which ultimately defines American art and redefines the "American identity." Although their chosen genre is influenced by European/European American tradition, these writers have enhanced the novel's narrative discourse by re-working storytelling techniques, re-creating cultural heroic figures, and re-envisioning spiritual/mythical traditions of their ancestors' native cultures.^ This dissertation seeks to re-politicize and to erase cultural margins that exclude. It is my belief that since the early days of postcoloniality, indigenous and immigrant cultures have been synthesized regardless of the nature of their passages to "America" or their subsequent marginalization. Though literary criticism has yet to recognize sufficiently this profound influence on American literature and though more work needs to be done in identifying and honoring contributions that grow out of our assimilated cultures, this dissertation provides a context to demonstrate how American narrative is a powerful site of learning about the universal humanity in ourselves. ^

Subject Area

Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Dianne Comiskey, "Within and without margins: Cross -cultural spaces in novels by Louise Erdrich, Maxine Hong Kingston, Alice Walker" (1994). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI9507060.