PAL: Perspectives in American Literature - A Research and Reference Guide - An Ongoing Project

© Paul P. Reuben

Appendix E: Alienation and Initiation as a Theme and the Immigrant Experience

Page Links: | Selected Bibliography 1980-Present | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |

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A very important theme for many American authors, alienation and initiation recreates an experience that is common to many Americans. From the first arrival to this continent, every immigrant has shared alienation and initiation.

Alienation is a feeling of not belonging. This feeling can be physical, mental, religious, spiritual, psychological, political, social, or economic. At one time or another, each one of us has experienced alienation in one form or another whether in a school, among family members, in religion, in politics, and in society. The most common form of alienation is the physical and cultural kind experiencing "foreignness" or "culture shock." This is also the kind of alienation that is most easily understood; however, when one feels alienated in one's own home, society, religion, or culture, it is more difficult to rationalize or understand that feeling of not belonging.

As used in literature, this theme of alienation assumes a familiar process. Its various stages or steps are easily identified:

1. Alienation - the feeling of not belonging - caused by: a. a person, who does something that creates the feeling of not belonging - examples: conscientious objection to war, disobedience (like Thoreau's refusal to pay the poll-tax), or breaking the law; b. society forces a person to do something against one's wishes: drafted for war; not allowed to wear a beard at a job; job discriminations because of alternate lifestyles, etc.; c. a combination of the above. Note: Once a person is alienated, he/she may remain alienated or do something about it, that is initiate a course of action.

2. Initiation - a examination of oneself and to take steps to change the alienated situation.

3. Journey - generally this change is symbolized, in literature, by a physical journey or movement from one place to another - it could mean moving out of home, changing majors or campuses, leaving or joining church, etc.

4. Suffering - during the journey or movement there is some kind of suffering - physical, mental, psychological, etc. This suffering is important to "cleanse" the past; it also suggests that change is not easy, it has its toll.

5. Reconciliation - after a painful journey (self-examination) there comes a reconciliation or removal of the feeling of not belonging. It takes two forms: a. a return to the former place- classic example of the return of the biblical prodigal son, or b a discovery of a new place or situation that gives the initiate a sense of belonging - a divorce and remarriage, for example.

6. Communication - this is an optional step, because not all initiates wish to talk about or share their experiences; however, many do, like Rip Van Winkle in Washington Irving's famous short story.

This secular theme has its parallels in religious experiences, most commonly seen in the so-called "born-again" Christians, and in spiritual experiences, as in mysticism.

| Top | Selected Bibliography 1980-Present

Bachman, Merle. Recovering 'Yiddishland': Threshold Moments in American Literature. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 2008.

Charr, Easurk E., and Wayne Patterson. The golden mountain: the autobiography of a Korean immigrant, 1895-1960. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1996. E184 .K6 C462

Chew Sánchez, Martha I. Corridos in Migrant Memory. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 2006.

Codde, Philippe. The Jewish American Novel. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue UP, 2007.

Dudley, John. A Man's Game: Masculinity and the Anti-Aesthetics of American Literary Naturalism. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2004.

Faderman, Lillian, and Ghia Xiong. I begin my life all over: the Hmong and the American immigrant experience. Boston: Beacon P, 1998. E184 .H55 F33

Ferraro, Thomas J. Ethnic passages: literary immigrants in twentieth-century America. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1993. PS374 .I48 F47

Friedlander, Jonathan. ed. Sojourners and settlers: the Yemeni immigrant experience. Salt Lake City: U of Utah P, 1988. E184 .Y44 S64

Hein, Jeremy. From Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia: a refugee experience in the United States. NY: Twayne Publishers, 1995.

Herrera-Sobek, Maria. Northward bound: the Mexican immigrant experience in ballad and song. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993. ML3558 .H47

Hoerder, Dirk, and Horst Rossler. eds. Distant magnets: expectations and realities in the immigrant experience, 1840-1930. NY: Holmes & Meier, 1993. JV6450 .D57

Hume, Kathryn. American Dream, American Nightmare: Fictions since 1960. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2000.

- - -. American Passages: An Anthology of Readings on Our Immigrant Experience. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2001.

Katz, Stephen. Red, Black, and Jew: New Frontiers in Hebrew Literature. Austin: U of Texas P, 2009.

Klapper, Melissa R. Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America, 1860-1920. NY: New York UP, 2005.

Lang, Barbara. The process of immigration in German-American literature from 1850 to 1900: a change in ethnic self-definition. Munchen: W. Fink, 1988. PT3907 .L36

Lim, Shirley, and Amy Ling. eds. Reading the literatures of Asian America. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1992. PS153 .A84 R43

Lovoll, Odd S. ed. Nordics in America: the future of their past. Northfield, Minn.: Norwegian American Historical Association, 1993. E184 .S18 N58

Ma, Sheng-mei. East-West Montage: Reflections on Asian Bodies in Diaspora. Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 2007.

Mageli, Paul D. The immigrant experience: an annotated bibliography. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Salem P, 1991. E184 .A1 M34x

McKenna, Teresa. Migrant song: politics and process in contemporary Chicano literature. Austin: U of Texas P, 1997. PS153 .M4 M55

Miller, Marc. Representing the Immigrant Experience: Morris Rosenfeld and the Emergence of Yiddish Literature in America. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 2007.

Muller, Gilbert H. New strangers in paradise: the immigrant experience and contemporary American fiction. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1999. PS374 .I48 M85

Rishoi, Christy. From Girl to Woman: American Women's Coming-of-Age Narratives. Albany: State U of New York P, 2003.

Santos, Robert L. Stories of California Azorean immigrants: an anthology of personal life sketches. Denair, CA: Alley-Cass Publications, 1998. F870 .A95 S264x

Sensi Isolani, Paola A., and Phylis C. Martinelli. eds. Struggle and success: an anthology of the Italian immigrant experience in California. NY: Center for Migration Studies, 1993. F870 .I8 S77

Serra, Ilaria. The Value of Worthless Lives: Writing Italian American Immigrant Autobiographi. NY: Fordham UP, 2007.

Simone, Roberta. The immigrant experience in American fiction: an annotated bibliography. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow P, 1995. PS374 .I48 S56x

Srikanth, Rajini. The World Next Door: South Asian American Literature and the Idea of America. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2004.

Takaki, Ronald T. ed. From different shores: perspectives on race and ethnicity in America. NY: Oxford UP, 1994. E184 .A1 F745

Viscusi, Robert. Buried Caesars, and Other Secrets of Italian American Writing. Albany: State U of New York P, 2006.

Wirth-Nesher, Hana. Call It English: The Languages of Jewish American Literature. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006.

Zaborowska, Magdalena J. How we found America: reading gender through East-European immigrant narratives. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1995. PS153 .E37 Z33

Ziolkowski, Margaret. Alien Visions: The Chechens and the Navajos in Russian and American Literature. Newark: U of Delaware P, 2005.

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page

Reuben, Paul P. "PAL: Appendix E: Alienation and Initiation as a Theme and the Immigrant Experience." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL: (provide page date or date of your logon).

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