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Transatlantic convergence of Englishness and Americanness: Cultural memory, nationhood, and imperialism in twentieth century modernist fiction

by Jayasundera, Ymitri

Abstract (Summary)
Even though memory may be implicitly masculinized, a seemingly monolithic entity of the cultural elite, it was also a site of cultural disquiet converging on conflicting discourses. Englishness, the construct of the Victorian upper-and middle-classes, was ambiguous since nativist Americans claimed it through cultural kinship to separate themselves from an increasingly pluralistic society. My study aims to extend the British and American cultural and memorial convergence by juxtaposing it with the struggles of "minority" groups--Celtic races in Britain, "ethnic" whites and African Americans in the United States--as they sought to be included within their respective dominant culture's discourses. In my first chapter, I develop the issue of Englishness as a racial and cultural construct that defined not just British cultural memory but also a separate identity for nativist Americans. Within this discourse African Americans sought to counter the memorial hegemony of Anglo-Saxonism that used blackness to define the superiority of whiteness. The texts will include Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1901), F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925), W. E. B. DuBois' The Negro (1915), and Jean Toomer's "Blood-Burning Moon" in Cane (1923). Although Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier (1915) is ironically narrated by a wealthy American seeking to incorporate into himself the identity of Englishness, the novel as a whole memorializes the ideals of service, honor, and duty that privileged as it defined the English gentry class. In spite of sites of memory being in the nostalgic past, the empire becomes a stable reference point for defining "civilized" identity against the exoticized Other. Even though Englishness may be the ideal of Anglo-Saxon whiteness, white Southerners were forced to define themselves in relation to the North even as they struggled to demarcate and segregate African Americans. In William Faulkner's Light in August (1932), race can involve hybrid identities which can make African Americans an absent presence within the dominant culture. By contrast in Zora. Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), African Americans try to achieve a measure of autonomy through self-government in the form of a separate nationhood and agency through their oral-tradition--a unique form of cultural memory.
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School:University of Massachusetts Amherst

School Location:USA - Massachusetts

Source Type:Master's Thesis

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Date of Publication:01/01/2001

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