My paper examines how American authors of the South Asian Diaspora (Indian-American or South Asian American) can be read 1) as simply American and 2) without regard to ethnicity. I develop this argument using American authors Jhumpa Lahiri, a first generation American of Bengali-Indian descent, and Bharati Mukherjee, an American of Bengali-Indian origin. I borrow from Deepika Bahri's materialist aesthetics in postcolonialism (in turn borrowed from members of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory) and include theoretical insights from Rey Chow, Graham Huggan, and R. Radhakrishnan regarding multiculturalism, identity politics, and diaspora studies. Huggan and Radhakrishnan's insights are especially useful because their work deals with the South Asian diaspora, in England and the United States, respectively. After setting up a theoretical framework, I critique reviews and essays that privilege hyphenated, "Indian," or "South Asian" identity, and the resultant reading paradigm that fixes these authors into an ethnic minority category. I then trace aesthetic and thematic content of short stories from both Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies and Mukherjee's The Middleman and Other Stories to demonstrate how these stories resist this ethno-cultural pigeonholing. My analysis exposes how ethnic and multicultural identity politics supplant aesthetic criticism and transform ethno-cultural identity into an aesthetic object, even if done as a celebration of hybridity or liminality as a putatively liberating space (hyphenated identity as embodying that space). Though my purpose is not to undermine the meaningful artwork and criticism instantiated in or about the "in-between" spaces of American culture, I demonstrate that an over-emphasis on ethnicity and culture (culture "other" than the majority culture in the U.S.) in fact stifles the opening of the American literary canon. Ethnicity and culture become ways of limiting the hermeneutics available to literary criticism because they become the only ways of reading, instead of one lens through which American literature is read.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Chetty, Raj G., "Versions of America: Reading American Literature for Identity and Difference" (2006). Theses and Dissertations. 765.
South Asian, Indian-American, minority literature, Jhumpa Lahiri, Bharati Mukherjee, Interpreter of Maladies, Middleman and Other Stories, identity politics, contemporary American literature, diaspora, race, ethnicity, culture, aesthetics, formalism, Marxist dialectics, American literary canon, postcolonial theory, canonicity, R. Radhakrishnan, Rey Chow, Graham Huggan, Deepika Bahri, orientalism, exoticism