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The lure of the land: Ethnicity and gender in imagining *America

Iping Joy Liang, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In an age compounded by diversity, this dissertation seeks a common ground among the multifarious experiences of America. It argues that the land, the physical and the metaphysical, the lived and the perceived space that is referential to all, constitutes a primeval experience--the imagination of America. If Anglo-Americans once envisioned a virgin land on which to build a New World Garden, ethnic groups have their founding myths of America: While the Navajo Indians perceive a "house made of dawn," Chicanos reclaim the mythic "heart of Aztlan" in the Southwest; and while Afro-Americans hail "home to Harlem," Chinese Americans "go-out-on-the-road" to the legendary Gold Mountain in California.^ Conceptually, the study employs Henry Nash Smith's (1950) critical notion of myth: "a poetic idea, a collective representation." While Smith historicizes the westward expansion of the "virgin land," Annette Kolodny (1984) provides a paradigm of middle-class white women taunting and questioning the male-centered "virgin land." Kolodny is important not only because she polarizes the male and female fantasies, but because, by exposing the woman as one category of "otherness," she relates womanhood to ethnicity.^ The study hence deconstructs the myth of virgin land by contesting the issues of ethnicity and gender in imagining America. It investigates the images of Aztlan, la Mestiza, Harlem, the "house made of dawn," and the Gold Mountain to surface the common ground of a mythic element in our imaginations of America. It emphasizes the ethnic woman's need to carve out the "land before her" in both racial and gender terms. This is done structurally by pairing a male and a female writer in each ethnic group: (1) N. Scott Momaday and Leslie Silko; (2) Rudolfo Anaya and Gloria Anzaldua; (3) Claude McKay and Zora Neale Hurston; (4) Louis Chu and Maxine Hong Kingston. By comparing male and female writers and by juxtaposing multiethnic writers, this study transgresses sensibly and fluidly among Ethnic Studies, Women Studies, and American Studies. Mostly, it lands on a common ground to illuminate from various angles the lure of the land. ^

Subject Area

Asian literature|Latin American literature|African literature

Recommended Citation

Liang, Iping Joy, "The lure of the land: Ethnicity and gender in imagining *America" (1995). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9606537.