Our Decentralized Literature

Cultural Mediations in Selected Jewish and Southern Writers


How have American writers functioned as cultural mediators--as agents who bring together the fragments of a diverse society and as artists who invent their culture for new audiences? In particular, how have Jewish and Southern writers fulfilled this role as they strove to move from positions of marginality toward the center of American literary culture and to gain access to the institutions of cultural dominance? These are some of the questions addressed in this stimulating collection of essays.

Jules Chametzky examines the work of Abraham Cahan, Charles Chestnutt, Kate Chopin, I.B. Singer, Edward Dahlberg, Elmer Rice, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Mark Twain, George Washington Cable, Thomas Wolfe, and William Styron, among others. He raises three basic and interrelated issues: first, the question of language; second, ethnic and regional particularities as crucial aspects of twentieth-century American culture; third, the role and strategy of the 'marginal' writer as he or she struggles with these elements within the wider social context. In the process, Chametzky deftly explores the ways in which each writer transforms his or her experiences to create a new sense of being "on native ground."

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