Great starting point for students seeking an introduction to the theme and the critical discussions surrounding it.
The cultural diversity of the United States makes it impossible to describe American identity as homogenous or monolithic. The sense of belonging to multiple cultures and its relationship to identity are central concerns in literary works by African, Native, Asian, Latino/a, and other ethnic Americans. While some prioritize one culture over another, others emphasize the space in between, to insist on a balance between the two, or to express a feeling of being in-between, or the inability to participate in either side, as so brilliantly evoked in Sui Sin Far’s description: “I give my right hand to the Occidentals and my left to the Orientals, hoping that between them they will not utterly destroy the insignificant ‘connecting link.’”
In multicultural America, identity can be complicated, confusing, even frustrating while at the same time inspiring new perspectives, creativity, and a rich source of pride. This volume features studies of works as diverse as Sherman Alexie’s National Book Award-winning The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Gish Jen’s Mona in the Promised Land, and the lesser known but equally powerful Real Women Have Curves by Josefina Lopéz. Also offered are essays exploring cultural and historical contexts including one by Annette Harris Powell on the changing politics of hyphenation in the United States and its literature over the course of the 20th century.
The volume’s first section, “Critical Contexts,” contains four essays that introduce key concepts, contexts, and critical approaches, providing a foundation for studying the theme in greater depth. In the first essay, Annette Harris Powell provides a historical overview of those social and cultural factors affecting discussions of identity in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Powell highlights multiculturalism and the way racial and ethnic diversity have challenged earlier definitions, which equated American identity with white, male, middle- and upper-class values and practices. In particular, Powell traces changing social attitudes toward the idea of the “hyphen.” In 1915, Teddy Roosevelt famously proclaimed, “There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americans.” Roughly fifty years later, the call for civil rights led groups to proudly claim a hyphenated status; for example, African-American, Jewish-American, Asian-American, or Italian-American. Half a century after passing the Civil Rights Amendment, many Americans view the hyphen as obsolete. Nonetheless, as Powell argues, Americans still struggle over the idea of a multicultural American identity that embraces difference.
Each essay is 2,500 to 5,000 words in length, and all essays conclude with a list of "Works Cited," along with endnotes. Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:
- About This Volume
- Critical Context: Original In-Depth Essays
- Further Readings
- Detailed Bibliography
- Detailed Bio of the Editor
- General Subject Index