Academic journal article American Studies

FIFTIES ETHNICITIES: The Ethnic Novel and Mass Culture at Midcentury

Academic journal article American Studies

FIFTIES ETHNICITIES: The Ethnic Novel and Mass Culture at Midcentury

Article excerpt

FIFTIES ETHNICITIES: The Ethnic Novel and Mass Culture at Midcentury. By Tracy Floreani. Albany: State University of New York Press. 2013.

In Fifties Ethnicities: The Ethnic Novel and Mass Culture at Midcentury, Tracy Floreani studies ethnicity in the 1950s as a period scholar bringing together a variety of texts such as novels, television programs, magazines, and films. Eager to challenge the common notion of a middle class, white midcentury America, the author denounces the invisibility of diversity in the mass media of the decade and sets out to investigate the participation of some minority writers in the construction of American identity. In this pre-"ethnic pride" movements period, Floreani strives to bring to light the 1950s ethnicity that "the forces of mass culture have elided [...] from much of popular memory" (1).

This endeavor is premised on the deconstruction of the positive/negative binary of ethnic representation in cultural criticism that fatally limits analysis. Floreani's comparative readings of mass media and literary texts yield a complex picture of a host of identities which, through participation in the national culture, converge in the enactment of citizenship. Indeed, the texts under examination testify to "the expansion of consumer culture and the entrenchment of gender roles" (3) that also characterize the period.

Floreani approaches five novels (Flower Drum Song, Lolita, Maud Martha, Rock Wagram, Invisible Man) in their dialogue with mass culture as textual case studies of the performance of cultural citizenship. In this group, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita naturally stands out, as the novel is hardly seen as belonging to "immigrant literature," but Floreani justifies her choice underlining the class issue along with the Western origins of Nabokov's main character. …

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