Date of Award

5-2009

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

English

Advisor

LeMahieu, Michael

Committee Member

Manganelli , Kimberly

Committee Member

Naimou , Angela

Abstract

Though blacks and Jews are often portrayed together in African-American and Jewish-American writing, the reasons for the juxtapositions are curious. Contemporary authors have created a close relationship between blacks and Jews that, perhaps with the exception of their cooperation during the Civil Rights movement, historically did not exist. But, the relationship between these two groups in literature offers a unique perspective on American racial and ethnic social structures because both blacks and Jews are considered minority groups, yet they also maintain a hierarchical relationship with one another. By employing black and Jewish characters, American writers, especially Jewish-American writers, create a platform from which to speak about racial and ethnic binaries and the construction of interethnic relationships within American culture. I explore these binaries using the themes of guilt, sexuality and Democracy. The novels discussed in this thesis look at the confrontation between the white power structure and ethnic minorities as well as between the minority ethnic groups themselves to explain the difficulties in this articulation because of the deeply entrenched nature of binary ethnic relationships within American culture. This thesis intervenes in the discourse concerning the representations of blacks and Jews in literature and helps to illuminate interethnic relationships within American culture. Authors Saul Bellow, Alice Walker, Lore Segal and Philip Roth employ binary systems in their novels in order to illustrate how Jewish characters operate in an undefined position between blacks and whites and the consequences of their liminality. Though binaries characterize much of the relationship between races and ethnicities, the Jewish characters destabilize these hierarchical social structures, if only temporarily, opening up the possibility for interethnic relationships to exist outside of a hierarchical system.

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