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Imitations of White: Jewishness, Blackness, and Gender

ENGL 016.306
TR 10:30-12

In American literature and culture, Jews and African Americans are often depicted as imitating white ways. While much of Jewish American literature addresses questions of assimilation and Americanization, the theme of “passing for white” remains a dominant theme in African American literature, even today. This seminar will examine gendered representations of Jewish and black identity by focusing on narratives of passing and assimilation. We will address questions such as: What are the differences and similarities between the themes of passing and assimilation? How have these themes been revised and adapted by different writers (and by films) over the course of the twentieth century? Do these paradigm shifts also depend on whether the protagonists are male or female (or whether the writers themselves are men or women)? How do the textual strategies of these narratives reflect the theme of American self-invention and how do these works offer alternative views on self-invention that challenge the prototypical model of the self-made man? In answering these questions, we will pay particular attention to the ways that these texts reveal the intersections of racial, sexual, and gender identity. Authors may include Mary Antin, Abraham Cahan, Jessie Fauset, James Weldon Johnson, Nella Larsen, Arthur Miller, Danzy Senna, Alice Walker, and Anzia Yezierska, as well as a number of films and secondary critical readings.

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