Creative Awakening: The Jewish Presence in Twentieth-Century American Literature, 1900-1940s

Creative Awakening: The Jewish Presence in Twentieth-Century American Literature, 1900-1940s

Creative Awakening: The Jewish Presence in Twentieth-Century American Literature, 1900-1940s

Creative Awakening: The Jewish Presence in Twentieth-Century American Literature, 1900-1940s

Excerpt

This work is conceived and organized around the concept of Jewish presence in American literature. The study of Jewish development as refracted in the nation's literature in the present century flows out of this concept. In this context literature is viewed as a social manifestation whose meaning extends beyond the "literary" in the specialized sense, essential as this literary aspect is to the total grasp of a work. Thus to trace the Jewish presence is to follow the rapid changes in the Jewish situation, in the material and social status of Jews, and in the conditions of their life as these form the generative basis for literary expression as well as the mode in which Jews make their appearance within that expression by both Jews and non-Jews. The content of the ensuing work is then the literary rendering of the acculturation process, the making of the texture of American-Jewish social life in the specific historic circumstances of this period of mass immigration and its aftermath.

The centuries-old history of the Jew as alien in Christian civilization and the strong inertial power of anti-Semitism and discrimination, the temptation to use the Jew as scapegoat in time of trouble, the traumatic effect of the necessary transition from the largely hermetic East European milieu to the contrasting mores and atmosphere and language of the "land of the free"--all these provided, willy-nilly, the ground of Jewish life in this country. Significantly, then, Jewish presence in the first half of the century and even beyond is a name for the acculturation of the main body of American Jews.

Jewish presence in literature is a complex phenomenon. Within it is the basic dichotomy of the Jew as writer and as subject or character. A Jew is no less Jewish when presented by a non-Jewish author than when included in work by a Jewish writer, regardless of the varying degrees of intimacy between author and subject. It is especially important to consider the release . . .

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