Graduation Year

2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

English

Major Professor

Tova Cooper

Keywords

American Dream, capitalism, immigrant, Lacan, narrative

Abstract

This thesis explores the very different ways that both the novel and autobiography mediate individual and group identities by comparing Anzia Yezierska's novel Salome of the Tenements to her autobiography Red Ribbon on a White Horse. Yezierska's texts establish the inherent difference between the novel and autobiography in that her novels contribute to the dominant ideology by colluding with the capitalist narrative of individualism while her autobiography resists that very narrative. In calling forth the multiple voices of her community, her autobiography reveals, in a series of metatextual comments, the fictional nature of the self and autobiography. Comparing these two narrative modes, and using the concept of the self as defined by Lacan, I will illustrate the trappings of the novel's construction, its emphasis on verb and the form of rising action, conflict, climax and resolution (what I call "the tyranny of the plot") to the sublimation of character. In foregoing character for plot, Yezierska's novels caricature Jewish identity in a way which ultimately engenders and reinforces Jewish stereotypes and also Jewish self-hatred. However, I will also argue that Yezierska's autobiography resists capitalism's master narrative of the American Dream in ways that her fiction simply does not and cannot. Not only is Red Ribbon on a White Horse under-studied, but the lack of any real comparative study between any immigrant fiction and immigrant autobiography is surprising. While many have theorized immigrant autobiography, there are few studies which have tried to understand the very real differences in these two modes.

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