LITR 4340 American Immigrant Literature

Lecture Notes





Vance, Introduction


pass out Vance, ch. 9




Student difficulties with this section of course (new to me too)




remember American history a century ago


heavy bans on immigration except by National Origins, which favored Europeans


concurrent with segregation against African Americans


American Indians as bad guys in movies









three major problems


1. much reading centuries-old; classic literature is hard enough, but the farther back, the harder


2. the younger students are, the more resistant to history


3. dominant culture hard to identify, like water we swim in; everywhere in general but nowhere in particular


> easier to identify minorities or immigrant because they're different, stand out


> question on which to teach









Pilgrims & Puritans






Two backgrounds:


1. competing scales and natures of traditional and modern communities [tradition / modern]


2. class marker: extended childhood






midterm2 review


if turned in by now or soon, return by weekend


attitude check: difficult, demanding exams


not graded on perfection but on meeting requirements and making progress


are we learning? temptation to want praise and congratulations for what we already know



learning > teaching



more next week on midterm2


welcome to reply to email and grade report




Purposes of teaching dominant culture




larger framework: humans evolve as small communities, us-them, self-other


"nation" as largest modern social unit, defined by language, history, ethnicity


but problem: USA as "nation of many nations" < immigrant story


immigrant story as American Dream: individual starts with nothing, rises to something


additional problem: community of individuals?


How unify?


1. celebrate / respect difference


2. assimilate to dominant culture


Teachers: which America do we teach?




Obj. 6b



> multicultural:

diversifying student population

need for students to identify with historical actors

America not just as glorious triumph but problems, progress


> dominant culture

If we don't teach dominant culture to multicultural students, we're denying them the opportunity to learn from the strongest, longest-lasting civilization with the most advanced progress toward equality

+ mechanisms for self-criticism, self-correction

+ dominant culture very attractive all over the world--many oppressed people want to be American (opportunity, political freedom, etc.)



Thanks to








Dom cult as "Anglo"  . . .  yes, British or English


but different parts or periods of England contribute different parts






dominant culture website; waves of American immigration; dominant culture waves

periods > 17c / Reformation > Enlightenment








Declaration & Constitution


examples of problems--we sort of believe in them but don't necessarily want to read them or pay attention




Declaration notes

How does the opening of the Declaration embody or reflect "the American Dream?" How do the Declaration's narrative and values resemble an immigrant narrative?


He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands. ["Naturalization" is the making of immigrants to citizens; e.g., the INS = Immigration and Naturalization Service]


He has excited domestic insurrections* amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages*, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. . . . [*"domestic insurrections" = slave revolts, supposedly instigated by the British to weaken American war effort; **Indians as victims of immigration and population growth; Indian warfare depicted as terrorism]

omitted section on slavery



Declaration of Independence & U.S. Constitution


Constitution notes

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


1.2.3 Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.



1.8.4 a uniform law of Naturalization


2.1.5 natural born citizen


4.1.3 fugitive slave clause


6.3 no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.


1 no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. [apply to Cherokee?]


13th amendment Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude


14.1 All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.







3.2 rural; rich & poor not so far removed

3.4 melting pot but European immigrants

3.4 uniqueness of New England

3.5 surprising metamorphosis < laws & industry

3.6 leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones

3.7 labour is founded on the basis of nature, self-interest


9.1 richest province

9.2 scenes of misery

9.3 The chosen race eat, drink, and live happy, while the unfortunate one grubs

9.4 life . . . without labor

9.5 Guinea > for a few years





Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity

1 knit together, bonds of brotherly affection    [metaphor]


2b Put a difference between Christians and others

[2c]  Law of Nature would give no rules for dealing with enemies, . . . but the Gospel commands love to an enemy. Proof: If thine enemy hunger, feed him; "Love your enemies... Do good to them that hate you" (Matt. 5:44).    [allusion]

[contrast Crevecoeur, "self-interest"]


Hence it was that in the primitive church they sold all, had all things in common, neither did any man say that which he possessed was his own. . . . [See Acts 2: 42-45, copied at bottom]


5a Love is the bond of perfection. First it is a bond or ligament. Secondly, it makes the work perfect. There is no body but consists of parts and that which knits these parts together, gives the body its perfection    [metaphor + emotion; contrast Constitution's "more perfect union"]

7 If one member suffers, all suffer with it, if one be in honor, all rejoice with it. [unity of church = unity of community]


[8] . . . this sensitivity and sympathy of each other's conditions will necessarily infuse into each part a native desire and endeavor, to strengthen, defend, preserve and comfort the other.


[9]  . . . So a mother loves her child, because she thoroughly conceives a resemblance of herself in it. [potential limits: the person you love has to look like you]


11 Entered into covenant  [cf. social contract, constitution]


12 knit together as one man, brotherly affection


12 Delight in each other, make otherís conditions our own


13 A city upon a hill   [allusion, symbol]








ask questions 3 & 5


J.D. Vance, "Introduction," Hillbilly Elegy (PDF fromemailed 1 November); J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy page; (> Scotch-Irish)



subtitle: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis


1 [American Dream?] a nice job, a happy marriage, a comfortable house, and two lively dogs [note delay of childbearing] [compare to Reyna Grande author page]


1 poor, Rust Belt, Ohio steel town hemorrhaging jobs and hope Rust Belt maps


2 x-high school, x-college

2 avoid welfare, heroine overdose? [opioid, oxycontin, heroin epidemic]

2 deep anger and resentment harbored by everyone around me

2 loving people rescued me


2 American dream as my family and I encountered it

how upward mobility really feels

2 American dream + demons


2 ethnic component > p. 3 Scots-Irish


3 white but x-wasps

3 Working class white Americans of Scots-Irish descent . . . no college degree

poverty is the family tradition

3 day laborers, share croppers, coal miners, machinists and millworkers

3 hillbillies, rednecks, white trash [+ Okies in Soto, "Like Mexicans"] > neighbors, friends and family


3 Scots-Irish . . . most distinctive subgroups

3 unchanging regional subculture

3 x-abandonment of tradition (x-assimilation)

3 good traits: loyalty, family and country

bad: do not like outsiders or people who are different; most important, how they talk


3 geography


4 Appalachian mountains, culture of greater Appalachia remarkably cohesive

cf. Louisian, Alabama

4 switch from Dem to Repub

4 fortunes of working-class whites eem dimmest

low social mobility to powerty to divorce and drug addiction


4 a pessimistic bunch, most pessimistic group in America

4 more socially isolated

religion has changed . . . churches heavy on emotional rhetoric but light on the kind of social support necessary to enable poor kids to do well


4 dropped out of labor force, chosen not to relocate

4 peculiar crisis of masculinity


5 traits that our culture inculcates make it difficult to succeed in a changing world


5 divorcing more, marrying less . . . if only better access to jobs


5 lost economic security and stable home and family life that comes with it


5 this story at least incomplete


6 Bob was 19 with a pregnant girlfriend . . terrible workers, chronically late, bathroom breaks


6 fired, Bob lashed out at his manager


7 manufacturing jobs have gone overseas and middle-class jobs are harder to come by for people without college degrees


7 reacting to bad circumstances in the worst way possible . . .  culture increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it


7 he thought something had been done to him

7 lack of agency, willingness to blame everyone but yourself [grievance or victim culture]


8 known many welfare queens, all were white


8 upward mobility fell off in the 1970s and never really recovered, some regions fared worse


8 tell a true story about what that problem feels like when you were born with it hanging around your neck


8 not just a personal memoir but a family one


8 two generations ago, grandparents got married and moved north in hope of escaping dreadful poverty

8 grandchild graduated from one of the finest educational institutions


9 short version


9 deeply flawed . . . but I love these people


[caught between two worlds of social migration]













ethnicity as history or appearance?




North American racial ideology: races created by God, pure permanent and exclusive

essential again for studying dominant culture

is it whiteness, or is it history?


possible fusion:


1776: "All men are created equal" (except for women and people of color)

Attempt to create a "classless" society, in contrast to Europe, where societies are organized by classes or ranks or birth (e.g., who you can marry, what work you do)

So far, so good

BUT if society is no longer organized or stratified by class, what classifications organize society?

Answer: gender and race


That's not the final answer to a question we're still learning how to answer

But that answer prevailed in varying degrees until Civil War, 22nd Amendment, Civil Rights Movement, Marriage Equality, etc.


Different "races" or ethnicities have different histories with America

The most physically distinct ethnicities are treated most as minorities without equal rights: African Americans, American Indians, East Asians (Chinese Exclusion Acts 1882 & 1923)



purpose: how to teach multiculturally without necessarily abandoning the traditional curriculum



Constitution, Declaration

cf. scripture

most people don't read it for themselves, but count on



5. As with zealously religious people who never read the Bible, many of the most avowedly patriotic Americans never read the Declaration or Constitution, even while claiming that these sources support their biases and ideologies. Instead they learn about the Bible from preachers or about the Constitution from family or office conversations or "hate radio." What happens when fundamentalists actually read their sacred texts for themselves?



cf. #3: enlightened democracy / capitalism as trade, exchange > moderation, golden mean

x-absolutes > pluralistic society, tolerance, benefit from difference > larger world, more beauty than one culture or interest group can offer


no greater pleasure / danger than having our biases confirmed







Lessons on Constitutional Government


Covenant b/w people and God . . . Winthrop 11; Bradford 11.2


social contract between consenting, self-governing parties

Declaration opening, Constitution prologue


socialism, communitarianism (with built-in hierarchies) > capitalism, competition, exchange between free agents with equal opportunities







What upsides / downsides to reading legal or historical texts as literature?




literature supporting nation, literature as nation


literature as practical writing > law, policy


conservative patriots won't object and may endorse, though they may object to critical thinking and history about failures or repressions inherent in constitutional history.






no story, narrative, characters, or . . .

history has to provide story


little emotion--instructor or community elder has to add ("This is important! We're Americans! This is who we are!")



practical writing > lack of figurative writing (metaphors, symbols, etc.)


why good? neutral, not impassioned--neutral common ground on which people can meet


Figurative speech adds color, vividness, but also cna be divisive




2. What parts of texts come alive for literary interests and why? Which parts did you skim or ignore, and why?






Bill of Rights cf. Ten Commandments + lists simplify


read for confirmation of historical knowledge



why not?

collective x individual

public x private


(problem of human mind: social creatures, but individual consciousness)



3. Using process of elimination, if today's texts don't count as literature, what does? How do such questions and analyses help us define literature or extend our definition of literature? As teachers of literature, what are we teaching our students to do? If we should teach historical and legal documents, how can we do so successfully? If we don't, how do we justify teaching the texts that we do teach?




Declaration mirrors increasing individualism as social mechanism


Constitution models balance of competing powers or interests


Horace on entertain & instruct



successfully: use religion (diplomatically)



historical documents + fictional texts (coming up in class)


intertextuality: read texts in relation to each other--contrast experience of reading fiction as one text or world at a time, self-enclosed




resolution of historical narrative: civilization advances, progresses > excludes, mistakes > resolves, progresses again > next set of problems



4. Compare the social and religious communities Seventeenth Century represented by the Mayflower Compact & A Model of Christian Charity with the Enlightenment social contracts described by The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. How are the religious documents more "literary" than the Enlightenment documents?



notes above re covenanct


absence of metaphor > numbers, structures, facts





5. As with zealously religious people who never read the Bible, many of the most avowedly patriotic Americans never read the Declaration or Constitution, even while claiming that these sources support their biases and ideologies. Instead they learn about the Bible from preachers or about the Constitution from family or office conversations or "hate radio." What happens when fundamentalists actually read their sacred texts for themselves?



cf. #3: enlightened democracy / capitalism as trade, exchange > moderation, golden mean

x-absolutes > pluralistic society, tolerance, benefit from difference > larger world, more beauty than one culture or interest group can offer






6. How to avoid extreme reactions of apathy or rebellion? Readers of government documents often respond fatalistically with "so what?", avoiding controversy. Correspondingly, any effort to read critically can identify one as a silly radical fighting the tide of history or disrespecting the past.