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January 30, 2012

Political/Ethnicity-Specific Theories


Image Source: http://www.bibliovault.org/thumbs/978-1-56639-713-1-thumb.jpg

Political/Ethnicity-Specific Theories: (African American / Native American / Asian American / Latino/a, etc.)

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. ISBN: 0415974100.
[This is your textbook about critical theory as applied to literature].

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan, eds. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004. ISBN: 1405106964.
[This is your collection of primary sources about literary theory as written by the pioneers and theorists who helped develop them. Use these as your primary sources for your papers].

Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts: Writing about Literature with Critical Theory. 5th ed. New York: Pearson, 2008. ISBN: 032144907X.
[Recommended but not required--Very easy to read! Please order this from Interlibrary Loan in our Library if the price is too hefty].

ENG 435 Students of 2009,

In this entry, you will.be entering:

[1] Your two self-designed reading-response questions (short answer) based on the "overview" summaries of this theory you were assigned from various textbooks. Due in the comment box here AND in the appropriate folder on turnitin.com on the day BEFORE the class meeting they are to be used.

[2] Your two self-designed discussion questions (longer answer) based on the application of specific terminology from this particular theory toward the primary works we have read for this course. Due in the comment box here AND in the appropriate folder on turnitin.com on the day BEFORE the class meeting they are to be used.

[1] your precis of the article assigned to you from the Rivkin and Ryan anthology about this particular theory. Due in the comment box below, in the appropriate folder on turnitin.com, AND as a hardcopy in class according to the deadline listed on our itinerary (see syllabus). Be prepared to discuss your article with the rest of the class.

Good luck,

Dr. Hobbs

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READING-CHECK AND DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. There were at least six major components of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s (Tyson 360). Identify three.

 

A: Black Literature, music, painting, sculpture, philosophy, and political debate

 

2. Why was it important for Americans trying to maintain a “white cultural hegemony” to keep slaves/minorities illiterate? (Tyson 361)

 

A: If slaves became literate, they might create poetry and other literary works; thus, proving that they were not dumb, intelligent beings. This would upset racial theories popular at the time.

 

3. Why did the Black Arts Movement deem “White” critical theories inappropriate for interpreting Black Literature? (Tyson 365)

 

A: These theories have European roots, and white, Eurocentric literature marginalized black authors in the history of American literature, most of whom were excluded from the American Canon.

 

4. According to some critical race theorists, why is Deconstructionism problematic when applied to African American Criticism? (Tyson 365)

 

A: Deconstructionism critiques the concept of a stable, inherently meaningful cultural identity. Some deem it unfair to deny African Americans the process of exploring and reclaiming their culture before critiquing it.

 

5. As a class, we’ve already discussed Saussure’s idea of the sign being a fusion of the signifier and the signified.  However, what does Henry Louis Gates mean by the term “signifying” in relation to African American culture (Tyson 390)?

 

A. Henry Louis Gates explains that signifying is the African American culture’s emphasis on the folk pronunciation of a word.

 

6.  According to Tyson, there are several common themes in the writing of female African American authors. Identify one.

 

A. Some common themes found in the works of female African American writers are victimization, importance of the black community to survive harsh conditions, and the role of beauty, e.g. white vs. black standards (Tyson 393).

 

7.    What is the belief in racial superiority, inferiority, and purity based on moral and intellectual characteristics?

A: Racialism

 

8.    What is interest convergence?

A: A term that explains that racism is common because it overlaps the interests of the dominant racial group.

 

9.    Can we think of any minority characters in the works we’ve read thus far for this course and what their perspective may be (as opposed to those of the non-minority characters)?

A: Mexicans in Fool for Love
, Jews in James Joyce’s works, Jews in Fitzgerald’s works, the munchkins in Oz? Or, perhaps, humans were the minority—a ruling minority? Witches also seem to be a ruling minority.



Video URL Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DN2e1Yf8Z-o




Video URL Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LW4rFV5EJJg



Video URL Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_txH0HJMIYU&feature=related

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Posted by lhobbs at January 30, 2012 04:10 PM

Readers' Comments:

Travis R
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
1 April 2009

Ethnicity-Specific Criticism Quiz Questions

Q: Why did The Black Arts Movement deem white critical theories inappropriate for interpreting black literature? (Tyson 365)

A: These theories have European roots, and white, Eurocentric literature marginalized black authors in the history of American literature, most of whom were excluded from the American Canon.

Q: According to some, why is Deconstructionism considered unsavory when applied to African American Criticism? (Tyson 365)

A: Deconstructionism critiques the concept of a stable, inherently meaningful cultural identity. Some deem it unfair to deny African Americans the process of exploring and reclaiming their culture before critiquing it.

Posted by: Travis R at March 31, 2009 10:42 PM

Liz H


Dr. Hobbs


ENG 435


March 31, 2009


Reading Questions


1. What does Henry Gates mean by the term signifying in relation to African American culture (Tyson 390)?


-Gates explains that signifying is the African American culture’s emphasis on the folk pronunciation of a word.


2. What are some common themes of female African American writers?


-Some common themes found in the works of female African American writers are victimization, importance of the black community to survive harsh conditions, and the role of beauty (white standards vs. black) (Tyson 393).

Discussion Question

Can we think of any minority characters in the works we’ve read and what their perspective may be (different than a major character’s)?

Posted by: Liz H at March 31, 2009 11:24 PM

Jessica P.
ENG 435
Dr. Hobbs
4/1/09

Questions for African American Criticism

Short Answer Question:

Q: What were three of the major components of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s? (p 360)

A: Black literature, music, painting, sculpture, philosophy, and political debate

Discussion Question:

Q: How was keeping the slaves illiterate an essential part for maintaining white cultural hegemony? (p 361)

A: If they were literate, they would have the opportunity to create poetry, and other literary works; thus, proving that they were not dumb, intelligent beings.

Posted by: Jessica Pall at April 1, 2009 09:31 AM

Questions:

1.What is the belief in racial superiority, inferiority, and purity based on moral and intellectual characteristics? Racialism

2.What is interest convergence- A term that explains that racism is common because it overlaps the interests of the dominant racial group.

Posted by: Wesley J at April 1, 2009 10:14 AM

Cecilia B
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
1st April 2009
1. To what does institutionalized racism refer according to African American criticism? Provide an example.
- The incorporation of racist policies and practices in the institutions by which as society operates (Tyson 361). An example would include education in terms of what books are taught and how the books are written.
2. Which area of institutionalized racism does Tyson claim maintains “white cultural hegemony” (Tyson 361).
- The American literary canon.

Posted by: Cecilia at April 1, 2009 12:55 PM

Kristin Brittain
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 436
3/31/09
African American Criticism Questions
1. Name three of the six basic tenets for African American critiscm.
A. Everday racism is common, race is socially constructed, and the experience of racial minorities give them a unique voice.
2. Define white privileged.
A. Whie privileged can be defined as “the myriad of social advantages, benefits, and courtesies that come with being a member of the dominant race.”

Posted by: kristin b at April 1, 2009 01:18 PM

Wesley Johnson
Hobbs
Eng 435
April 5, 2009
Resituating Native American Literature
Robert Dale Parker’s essay “Tradition, Invention, and Aesthetics in Native American Literature” is a piece from a larger book of his titled The Invention of Native American Literature. In this book and this essay, Parker attempts to resituate Native American literature as a national literature. Of particular interest to parker is the manner by which Native American literature became what it is and techniques by which it can change. Ultimately, Parker’s attempts call for a non-essentialist approach to challenging and recreating the literary cannon.
Because of the size and complexity of his book and article, an in-depth examination is not feasible here. Instead one need only understand a few concepts that Parker examines and challengers. The majority of the article is in regard to the discussion of Native American aesthetics. With this, Parker points out that Native American peoples have long had an aesthetic pleasure in language. However, that aesthetic pleasure is not necessarily indicative of a category of a native aesthetic definition. Parker postulates that the aesthetic focus of native peoples may only be a component of their historical culture and not necessarily important for the creation of works. He parallels what he sees as fruitless attempts to stereotype the Native American literary tradition with that of African American literature.
Also of particular emphasis in the essay is Parker’s discussion of the invention of Native American literature. While he is interested in the history of the literature, he is more interested in what the creation of it (particularly by non-native writers) means in a global sense. He sees the attempts to create new literary categories as a destruction of the classically defined canon. However, he is careful to point out that while he agrees with the destruction, he doesn’t claim that any of the previous works are less “good” than once thought. Parker is intent on mentioning that the cannon itself is a flawed system that stereotypes literature.
Robert Dale Parker seeks to re-examine Native American literature and how it has been developed as a literature both by its writers and critics. However, he is arguing for a non-essentialist approach to that argument. Parker is not interested in what it means to be Native American or a piece of native literature. Instead, the non-essentialist argument is focused on how literature is Native American (or not).



Work Cited
Parker, Robert Dale. “Tradition, Invention, and Aesthetics in Native American Literature.” 2003 Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 1051-1067.

Posted by: Wesley J. at April 5, 2009 01:46 PM

Sarah Tatko
Dr. Hobbs
Eng-435
6 April 2009
Horizontal Perspective of the Asian American Identity
In her 1991 essay entitled “Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Marking Asian American Differences”, Lisa Lowe discusses her belief that culture is not represented vertically but rather horizontally. By this she means that culture is not “exclusively hierarchical and familial” because there are more components that go into the equation such as ethnic traits and the idea that identity is a “composition of differences”; to Lowe, identity is a combination of past generations and present cultural constructions (Lowe 1033). Because of this belief, Lowe is attempting to stress the heterogeneity and hybridity nature of Asian American characterization. There are two reasons for this attempt; the first being to break down the current dominant discussion of Asian Americans being homogeneous which forces them into the minority, and the second being the Lowe believes that Asian Americans need to politically unite and organize to maintain “a politics based on ethnic identity” (1035).
Lowe continues to examine the motivation behind her attempt to enforce the idea of heterogeneity and explains that it has become common practice to think of California as an “ethnic state” which adds to the homogeneous identity (1035). This adds to the misrepresentation of identity because it groups all the ethnic minorities into one category; the category of ethnicity. This idea is quite the opposite because there is no equality between, and within, the different ethnic groups which makes them heterogeneous.
The argument is further discussed when Lowe states that by accepting homogeneity within the Asian American identity and political ethnicity, it allows for greater chances for a political group to affiliate with other groups. This is due to the fact that by recognizing the differences within their own ethnic group it allows them to branch out to others with the same characteristics as Asian Americans (Lowe 1039).
At the end of the essay, Lowe focuses on tracing different identity/ethnicity discussions through Asian American culture debates, literature, and film. A few examples used are Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, Eat a Bowl of Tea by Louis Chu, and the film A Great Wall by Peter Wang.

Work Cited
Lowe, Lisa. “Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Marking Asian American Differences.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 1031-1050.

Posted by: Sarah T. at April 5, 2009 08:58 PM

Liz H


Dr. Hobbs


ENG 435


April 5, 2009


Précis of Borderlands/La Frontera

In an excerpt from her book, Borderlands/La Frontera, 1987, Gloria Anzaldua discusses what it means to grow up on the border of two vastly different worlds, the United States and Mexico. Her book excerpt beautifully incorporates her message bilingually, and she tells the world of how she came to rectify her place straddling life with two languages and cultures.


Anzaldua shares her memoirs and thoughts on culture itself. She boldly states, “Culture is made by those in power - men” (1018). Anzaldua continues to explain how male oriented her society is by sharing how shocked she was to hear the female equivalent of “us” spoken (1023). The men ruling Anzaldua’s life had complete control, with help. Anzaldua notes that just as important to those men in power are the women who “transmit” these laws to their children and families (1018). Nevertheless, Gloria Anzaldua notes that confusion that she felt would come with these messages because the messages felt dichotomous. However, neither one of her worlds that she attempted to embrace were prepared to embrace her sexuality (1020). It is considered the ultimate rebellion. Furthermore, Gloria Anzaldua shares that her indoctrination into American society did not end with graduating high school because even in college she was required to take English classes to get rid of her accent. Gloria Anzaldua’s struggle with gaining an identity challenged her on every front: family, religion, speech, and language. She asserts that even the Spanish she spoke was considered a “bastard” and that she internalized this message of racism to judge others and herself (1026). Anzaldua considers this struggle to be on going and that her people of the border, the Chicanos, with no real homeland or identity will continue to struggle for acceptance.


Works Cited


Anzaldua, Gloria. "Borderlands/La Frontera." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Julie
Rivkin and Michael Ryan. 2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell P, 2004. 1017-031.

Posted by: Liz H at April 5, 2009 10:15 PM

Jessica P.
ENG 435
Dr. Hobbs
4/6/09

Precis: The Social Construction of Race

From the book, Critical Race Theory (2000I), Ian F. Haney Lopez explains in his article, The Social Construction of Race, the idea that Race is socially constructed. The outcome of the court case, Hudgins vs. Wrights, is an excellent example to prove that race is plastic and inconstant, determined completely by social means.

Race is still an important determining social factor today. Further, Ian states that race mediates every aspect of one’s life (965). After a study conducted by judges and legal academics, it was concluded that most people do not understand what defines race. However, according to the US court, the most developed overview of race consists that race is defined by blood, rather than one’s background or environment.

Ian states that race is not determined biologically, as a single gene does not control the structure of race at all. In fact, studies show that greater genetic variation exists within a culture than between them. Viewed as a social construction, racial formation can be defined by four characteristics. These characteristics essentially state that race is defined by humans, constructed by gender and class relations, has continuing change of meaning, and is constructed relationally. Thus, where biological race is an illusion, social race is not. By choosing to resist these racial stereotypes, one may emancipate themselves and their families.

Works Cited
Lopez, Ian F. Haney. “The Social Construction of Race”. 2000. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 964-973.

Posted by: Jessica Pall at April 6, 2009 10:07 AM

Ava Littlefield
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
4 April 2009
Black and White Print
In her 1996 essay “Interrogating Whiteness” author Shelly Fisher Fishkin addresses issues concerning the lack of recognition throughout American literature on behalf of African American culture. In February 1992, Fishkin was ignited with the idea to challenge the traditional paradigm that made up the American Canon. She asserts that most Classical literature is shaped or influenced by African American culture and often is the foundation of Classical American literature. Fishkin examined “fields including literary criticism, history, cultural studies, anthropology, popular culture, communication studies, music history, art history, dance history, humor studies, philosophy, linguistics and folklore” to reinforce her claims that African American culture is deeply rooted in the history of Classic literature. A re-evaluation of the Canon during the 1980’s ignited huge controversial issues, some of which included the fact that American literature was comprised of strictly white authors and the courses were taught by strictly white professors. African American literature was categorized as a separate genre and was predominantly taught by African American professors. The 1990’s marked a major push towards the study of African American cultural studies throughout literature. An examination of this caused further investigation and “called attention to the ‘whiteness’ of the curriculum” (Fishkin 976). Many African American scholars and writers were disturbed by this and attempted to restructure the problem. A list of those individuals included Toni Morrison, Eric J. Sundquist, Robert Stepto, Russell Reising, Aldon Lynn Nielson, Dana Nelson, Kenneth W. Warren, and Michael North. All of these literary scholars, critics, and authors had the same agenda at heart. They all desired to expose how African American cultures helped shape and were often the foundation for popular classical works including Herman, Melville, Twain, Faulkner, Elliot, and many other predominant writers of the classics. They wanted to emphasize the “crucial role cultural practices have often played in prefiguring, presenting, and preserving political coalitions based on identification with the fiction of ‘whiteness’ prevalent within the classics (Fishkin 981).
Works Cited
Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. “Interrogating Whiteness.” 1996. Literary Theory: An Anthology 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998. 976-81.

Posted by: Ava at April 6, 2009 10:21 AM

Travis R
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
6 April 2009

Assimilating Cultural Aspects and Marking Asian American Differences

Lisa Lowe divides her extensive essay, “Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Marking Asian American Differences,” into several section, each focusing on a different aspect of Asian American culture. To begin, Lowe utilizes two poems as examples of the cultural turmoil Asian Americans are subjected to when they immigrate to America: does one stay true to his own “original” culture or assimilate into the new “American” culture? If one does decide to align with the new culture too closely, he could be condemned as an “assimilationist.” On the other hand, if this same individual keeps a staunch recognition and practice of his old culture, he is considered an advocate of Asian American “nationalism.” Loss of culture (the disruption and distortion of traditional cultural practices) is a major topic of this essay—and a fear for many Asian Americans.

Lowe also states that binary terms (such as “white,” “non-white” and “majority,” “minority”) are harmful. She concludes they create unnecessary dichotomies that could be used to create products of nationalism: racism, territorialism, separatism, or ethic dictatorships. According to Lowe, finding a middle ground between complete assimilation and radical nationalism is the ideal end-goal: an ideology that best defines and emphasizes the separate components of the term Asian American. For that, she says, is the main focus of most Asian American literature: keeping one’s culture, one’s identity, while still finding a place to belong and not aiding hegemony in the process.

Work Cited
Lowe, Lisa. "Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Marking Asian American Differences." 1846.
Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 1031 - 1050.

Posted by: Travis R at April 6, 2009 10:24 AM

Kristin Brittain
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
4/3/09
Signifying Blackness
“The Blackness of Blackness: A Critique on the Sign and the Signifying Monkey” by Henry Louis Gates is an essay within his book “The Signifying Monkey” that was published in 1988. Within the essay Gates examines ancient myths from Latin America, Caribbean, and primarily African America cultures where his particular focus is found within the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria. The origin of the trickster Signifying Monkey comes from the figure of Esu- Elegrbara and it represents signifying within African American literature. Gates argues that a specific African American vernacular custom and certain literary traditions described as signify and signifying are found in many famous African American writers and performers.
Gates created several definitions for signifying, “in black discourse means mode of figuration itself” (988). “Signifying is a ‘technique of indirect argument or persuasion, a language of implication, to imply, goad, beg, boast, by indirect verbal or gestural means’” (989-990). Gates combines signifying with vernacular speech traditions that are common rhetorical strategies within prominent African American writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Ishmael Reed. “The specific speech turns on repetition of formal structures and their differences” and signifying is completed within the vernacular of ordinary men and women (987).


Work Cited
Gates, Henry Louis. “The Blackness of Blackness: A Critique on the Sign and the Signifying Monkey.” Literary Theory: An Anthology 2nd Ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 1998. 987-1004.

Posted by: Kristin b at April 6, 2009 11:12 AM

Cecilia B
Dr. Lee Hobbs
ENG 413
6th April 2009
Précis of Toni Morrison’s “Playing in the Dark”
In an excerpt from her lecture, “Playing in the Dark,” Toni Morrison ventures to describe her experiences as an African-American writer in a “genderized, sexualized, wholly racialized world” (1006). Morrison continually borrows from sociologist Orlando Patterson’s work which alleges the notion of American liberty as a falsified one because it depended greatly on African slavery to achieve it. Though embarking on a poignant discussion of her feelings towards specific language used in great works of scholarship, Morrison actually strives to highlight the “racial exclusion” and “hierarchy” that “nonblacks” promulgated or resisted in their literature and further exposes the Africanist presence in literature which reinforces slaveholder’s ideology (1009). More specifically, Morrison acknowledges the white ideologies which governed the worlds of many writers, therefore the racialist attitudes that exist at present are due in part, she claims, to “literary critics” (1009). Essentially, Morrison catalogues the famed books of James, Stein, Cather, and Hemingway and notes that none have been explored through an ethnic lens by a critic, thereby discovering the importance of “black characters” to the underlying themes of each text (1010). Morrison furthermore blames this lack of ethnic criticism on “scholarly indifference” (1011). Morrison’s realization that critics rather than writers are to blame for the abuse of white hegemony in the literary world is a product of her change from “reading as a reader” to a “reading as a writer” (1012).
Work Cited
Morrison, Toni. “Playing in the Dark.”1992. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie
Rivkin and Michael Ryan. New York: Blackwell Pub., 1998.1005-1016.

Posted by: cecilia at April 6, 2009 12:27 PM

Ava Littlefield
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
6 April 2009
What’s White, What’s Wrong?
In an attempt to apply Shelly Fisher Fishkin’s essay “Interrogating Whiteness” to Victor Fleming’s production Wizard of Oz, the focus of this paper will be repositioning characters within the film to tell the story. Fishkin asked “how might the American Renaissance look if we posited Frederick Douglass as central to it” (Fishkin 978)? Along those same lines, the question arises how the story of Oz might unfold if characters other than Dorothy been given the opportunity to illustrate their side of the story. Also, is Dorothy’s dependent upon other characters and their influence throughout Oz? If so, then can Dorothy be compared to the “whiteness” that Fishkin states controls the projection of the film? Is it possible to position the less important characters (munchkins, flying monkeys, witches, etc.) as the oppressed less white figures within the film?
Another thought for consideration is why is it that the main characters (Dorothy, The Wizard, and Glenda) are predominantly white actors? Frank Baum’s book does not describe that any of these characters need to be portrayed specifically as white. Is Fleming’s production of Oz a result of the “whiteness” that is stereotypically assumed within American culture? Were Fleming’s intentions to attract a white audience paralleling Fishkin’s statement that “the imaginative construction of whiteness shaped American literature and history” (Fishkin 976-77). Perhaps Fleming’s intentions were propelled by this assumption. A white audience would be considered the members of society that Fleming wanted to target?
If Dorothy had been portrayed by an African American actress, would the movie been as successful? What if Fleming had opted to hire all African American actors, would the movie then still be considered a classic? What if Fleming had decided to film Oz in strictly black and white production, would this have affected the outcome of its success?
According to George Lipsitz, author of “The Possessive in Whiteness: Radicalized Social Democracy and the White Problem in American Studies” the popularity of the film was a direct result of “Hollywood films institutionalizing racism by uniting ethnically diverse European-American audiences into an imagined community, one called into being through inscribed appeals to the solidarity of white supremacy” (Fishkin 981). Taking into consideration Lipsitz statement, Fleming may have chosen to portray all of the main characters as white in order to conform to societal standards.
Any variations in the production of Oz may have altered the film altogether. If the munchkins served as the oppressed races, then certainly the story may have unfolded from a different perspective. Perhaps Oz was once a happy place where the munchkins lived peacefully until they were invaded by Glenda (the white witch) or The Wizard (the white wizard). Perhaps the history of Oz isn’t really lollipops and cartwheels. If the monkeys were given the opportunity to tell their side of the story, perhaps they would tell about a time when they lived peacefully before being forced to dress in clothing and relinquish their castle.

Works Cited
Fishkin, Shell Fisher. “Interrogating Whiteness.” 1996. Literary Theory: An Anthology 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998. 976-981.
Fleming, Victor. The Wizard of Oz. 1939. MGM Studios.

Posted by: Ava at April 7, 2009 08:28 PM

Wesley Johnson
Hobbs
Eng 435
April 8, 2009
Tradition and Invention within The Great Gatsby
Applying Robert Dale Parker’s essay “Tradition, Invention, and Aesthetics in Native American Literature” to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby presents a multitude of problems. Obviously, there are no Native Americans in the novel. Also, Fitzgerald’s world comments predominantly on the northeastern culture of the United States. However, the notions of invention and aesthetics are applicable to The Great Gatsby.
As far as Parker’s dealings with invention are concerned, he is focused on both the creation of a Native American literature and the inventive nature appertaining thereto (Parker 1057). Fitzgerald’s novel achieves a similar invention. Native American’s were highly focused on oral culture. While this isn’t necessarily true of the culture within Gatsby, one could safely argue that the novel creates a world in which unspoken culture becomes important. This parallel is pretty abstract, though. The majority of characters within Gatsby are facades. The lives they claim to live are simply masks to sate the society at large (and the characters interacted with). The obvious example of this is Tom. He is having an affair but never directly states it. Jay Gatsby also maintains a hidden life (his past). Even Nick maintains his façade. His attempts to become a northeasterner and assimilate into “high” culture are finally given up when he realizes that he is too Midwestern.
This embrasure of unspoken culture is paramount to Gatsbian society (paralleling Native American). Therefore, it is on these grounds that Fitzgerald is able to make social commentary. Amongst the bourgeois, façade is important. Money and the appearance of money become the penultimate focus of society.
In light of this societal illustration, Fitzgerald is then able to (going back to Parker’s article) illuminate the aesthetic focus in “high,” northeastern American society. Just like portraits, lives become important only for their outward appearances. As Robert Dale Parker’s article sought to understand Native American literature from a non-essentialist approach, Fitzgerald accomplishes a similar goal with The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald (and the reader) examines the world of Gatsby not in terms of what it means to be in a world of façade; instead the focus on how the world of aesthetics and imagism is created.

Works Cited

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. 1925. New York: Scribner, 2004.
Parker, Robert Dale. “Tradition, Invention, and Aesthetics in Native American Literature.” 2003 Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 1051-1067.

Posted by: Wes J at April 9, 2009 04:04 PM

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