Word of Myth: Critical Stories in Minority American Literature Open Access

Schiff, Sarah Eden (2010)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/pk02cb445?locale=en
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Abstract

Abstract

Word of Myth: Critical Stories in Minority American Literature
By Sarah Eden Schiff

Since the 1960s, African American, Native American, Asian American, and Chicano/a
literatures have captivated the national imagination. "Word of Myth" contends that
minority authors' pervasive use of myth has been foundational to this boom in literary
production. Because it imposes order on the unknown and makes what is historically
specific seem natural and timeless, myth has proven invaluable for minority authors to
challenge master narratives while simultaneously reconstructing marginalized ones.
Though myth is conventionally understood as a politically conservative narrative form, I
argue that it can both conserve and liberate, sanction and qualify. In myth, minority
writers found the means to transmit cultural values, intellectual traditions, and silenced
histories while retaining an oppositional political stance.

To map the ways crosscultural US literatures deploy myth, I draw on a broad spectrum of
myth theory, from mid-century structuralists Carl Jung and Mircea Eliade to more recent
scholars of religion and philosophy such as Paul Ricoeur and Wendy Doniger.
Considering texts by contemporaneous authors across cultural divides, each chapter of
my dissertation identifies formal dynamics by which US literatures of race and ethnicity
forge symbolic space for alternate mythologies in order to confront the leviathan of
American exceptionalism.

Because myth appears in all cultures but demands cultural context to be understood, it
proves to be an especially useful theoretical lens for comparative American literary
studies. By making myth a central critical category, "Word of Myth" identifies literary
strategies used in common by authors of disparate racial backgrounds, explains the
significance of these connections in the context of national politics, and thereby revises
the prevailing narrative of American literary history. Rather than a series of unconnected
movements or an assortment of multicultural tokens, post-1960s US minority literature,
through its emplotment of alternate origin stories, has fundamentally changed the
imagination of Americans - both how we imagine and who we imagine Americans to be.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction: Stories beyond Compare ………………………………….…………….. 1

Chapter One: Mythic Syncretism and the Case for American Citizenship ...………..... 38

Chapter Two: Power Literature and the Recovery of Essential Myths .……………… 110

Chapter Three: Myth and Minority Feminist Revision ........………………………….. 189

Chapter Four: Monkey Myths and Critical Tricksters ….…………………………….. 279

Conclusion: Looking Ahead ……………………………………………….…………. 351

Works Cited……………………………………………………………….…………... 364



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