Imitations of White: Jewishness, Blackness, and Gender
In American literature and culture, Jews and African Americans are often depicted as imitating white ways—whether through the process of assimilation or by disguising their origins and “passing for white.” In these depictions, gender plays an important role. For example, light-skinned African-American protagonists who pass for white are disproportionately women, and immigrant Jewish men are often portrayed as emasculated. This seminar will focus on literary and cultural representations of Jewish and black identity, while paying particular attention to gender stereotypes. We will examine literary and popular works from four major periods: the turn of the century, the Jazz Age/Harlem Renaissance, the Cold War era, and contemporary culture. We will address questions such as: How have the themes of passing and assimilation been revised and adapted by different writers (and by films) over the course of the twentieth century? How do the textual strategies of these narratives reflect the theme of American self-invention? And how do these works offer alternative views on American self-making that challenge the prototypical model of the self-made man? Authors may include Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mary Antin, Anzia Yezierska, Nella Larsen, Jessie Fauset, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Sylvia Plath, Toni Morrison, Danzy Senna, and Rebecca Walker, as well as a number of films and secondary critical readings.