Publication Date

2011-05-09

Availability

Open access

Embargo Period

2011-05-09

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Department

English (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense

2010-12-03

First Committee Member

Tim Watson

Second Committee Member

Lindsey Tucker

Third Committee Member

Ranen Omer-Sherman

Fourth Committee Member

Bishnupriya Ghosh

Abstract

This dissertation examines how postcoloniality affects identity formation in contemporary women's immigrant literature. In order to do so, it must interrogate the critical fields that are most interested in issues of national and cultural identities, migration, and the appropriation of women by both Western and postcolonial projects. By examining the fiction of Bharati Mukherjee, Elizabeth Nunez, and Jhumpa Lahiri through the triple lens of ethnic American studies, postcolonial theory, and transnational feminism, I will argue that theorizing postcolonial women's writing in the United States involves sustained analysis of how particular socio-political experiences are translated into the context of American identity. I am particularly interested in the manner in which female subjects in these texts navigate between the various and often contradictory demands placed on them by their respective homeland cultures and their new immigrant positions in the United States. Although each of these writers depict immigrant women protagonists who adapt to these demands in their own particular ways, a study of these characters' gendered and cultural identities reveals a powerful relationship between the manner in which women are figured into the preservation of the postcolonial nation-state and the ways in which these women utilize immigration as an occasion to appropriate and subvert this role in the establishment of a new, negotiated identity. This project draws on three important and current fields of interest to both cultural and literary studies. Postcolonial studies, which has been central to the study of literature by minority writers, provides a useful foundation for understanding hybrid identities, dislocation, and the ways in which empire gave rise to nationalisms that utilized women in the formation and preservation of the nation-state. Transnational feminist theories are critical to understanding the implications of nationalism's appropriation of women and their bodies in it projects, and are especially useful in establishing feminisms that are not limited by American or European definitions and that defy homogenizing the experiences of postcolonial women. They affirm that there are many strategies for employing female agency, and that we must consider the particular circumstances (economic, cultural, racial, national, gender) that allow women of color to favor one strategy over another. Finally, U.S. Ethnic studies will inform my readings of texts that are, at their core, narratives of immigration to the United States and the seeking out of the American Dream. However, this dissertation suggests, the precarious position of immigrants in a nation whose ideals and dominating mythology are marred by a dark history of racism and exclusionary practices plays an important role in the establishment of an ethnic American identity in the United States.

Keywords

immigrant literature; women's literature; postcolonial studies; transnational feminism; immigration; identity

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