Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

Caliban in the promised land: Literacy narratives, immigration narratives and racial formation in twentieth century United States culture

Kimberly Ann Costino, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This project explores the relationship between literacy and immigration. It claims that the ideological imbrication between literacy and immigration is problematic because it articulates literacy with raceless, American citizenship and illiteracy with a raced, immigrant/outsider subject position. As a result, the notion of “becoming literate” serves as a racializing force in our culture. It supports an “ethnicity-based paradigm of race” that suggests that if an individual is not a “raceless,” middle-class American citizen, (if s/he does not see him/herself this way or if others do not see him/her this way), then s/he does not belong in the world and culture of the “literate.” Chapter 1 explains the rationale for this study both theoretically and in terms of the work in the field of composition. It demonstrates the ways that literacy narratives prominent in the field of composition are bound up with tropes, metaphors, and images of US immigration in the 20th century and contends that reliance on these tropes and images ultimately works to perpetuate static, homogeneous, hierarchized images of identities and cultures. Chapters 2 and 3 examine Mary Antin's The Promised Land. Together, they demonstrate that in order to argue against the biologically based ideologies of race underlying the arguments for immigration restriction, Antin needed to represent race as something that was “assimilable.” Therefore, her immigration narrative constructs literacy as a means of cultural assimilation. Chapters 4 and 5 address Richard Rodriguez' autobiography, The Hunger of Memory. Chapter 4 explores how the dominant image of immigration is embedded in the educational debates on desegregation, bilingual education, and affirmative action in ways that maintain the link between literacy and raceless, American citizenship and illiteracy and racialized immigrant others. Chapter 5 demonstrates that an intertextual reading of Rodriguez' narrative problematizes these articulations in promising ways. The concluding chapter points to teaching practices that might begin to deconstruct the racialized literate/illiterate binary that has prevented us from making literacy, in Linda Brodkey's words, “an offer that people cannot refuse.”

Subject Area

Rhetoric|Composition|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Costino, Kimberly Ann, "Caliban in the promised land: Literacy narratives, immigration narratives and racial formation in twentieth century United States culture" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3068548.