“The Hyphenated Americans”

Ethnic American Literature and Media

Course Description: On every American coin is engraved the phrase “E Pluribus Unum.” “E Pluribus Unum” means “Out of Many One,” and it is at the heart of the identity of the United States. As an ethic “E Pluribus Unum” is a vision of a united country, where immigrants from around the world, who come to the United States with a diverse array of identities, become one in their American-ness, with shared values and a loyalty to American values. How do we reconcile this ideal of American unity with the ideal of American diversity? How has that ideal changed over time? What is an ethnic American identity in the context of this foundational belief?

Course Goals: In this course, we will read works of American literature that consider the nature of the “Hyphenated American.” We will examine how concepts of hyphenated identity and its relationship to American identity change over time and in response to historical events in American history and in world history. We will ask how this body of literature grapples with the competing demands of American assimilation on the one hand, and preserving group identity and culture on the other. This course will contribute to and sharpen your critical thinking, writing and interpretation skills through reading, writing and presentation assignments. An examination into the ways in which gender, race, ethnicity, class, nationality, religion and sexuality shape literature and our responses to such representations will be crucial to this course. This means that active participation and a willingness to engage with diverse–and perhaps opposing–viewpoints is required to develop your critical thinking skills. While we certainly will find some thematic similarities between the assigned texts, in order to do justice to them as readers, we must also maintain attention to the more “local”, social or historical differences between them and the groups they represent.

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