Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Naomi Mandel

Abstract

My dissertation is concerned with experiences of individualization in the context of ethnic group identification; and by extension, the instabilities inherent to defining certain American novels as ethnic and others as mainstream. I read American novels published since 1960 that do not fit into either categorization and have come under critical fire for their respective presentations of certain ethnic groups. These texts include J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, Carlene Hatcher Polite’s The Flagellants, Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko, and The Human Stain by Philip Roth. These novels structure the narrative present through characters’ crises of individual identity. I argue that through these scenes the novels reveal, not only how group identification involves an attachment to a shared narrative about oneself and others, but also the weight of these attachments on the individual who cannot perceive themselves within the group’s narrative or institutional canon. I argue that these novels comprise an alternative genre that offers new senses of ethnicity for a multicultural United States. My method blends discourse analysis, narratology, and aesthetic theory to read characters’ crises in specific social contexts, developing what is collective about individual endeavors for social survival. In conclusion, by perceiving the present as structured through emotional turmoil, we may begin to better understand larger social narratives about meanings and experiences of agency that have surfaced since 1960 and remain of crucial concern to present scholars. The characters’ struggles for autonomy—from family, community, and capital—that are presented in these narratives point to an ideological shift in how scholars posit ethnicity in a multicultural United States. Overall, my dissertation highlights a process of social change that occurs on every-day, expressive registers and the role that narrative plays in re-mediating emotion into new political identifications.

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