Monthly Archives: October 2010

Cultural Psychology of Immigration (07 October 2010)

While researching the immigrant experience and theories of immigration, I came across an excellent book called Cultural Psychology of Immigrants, edited by Ramaswami Mahalingam with a chapter by Silvia Pedraza on the immigrant experience in America. Pedraza deals with the major question concerning immigrant research that is what factors impel immigration and what can be attained from it? (34). Pedraza questions how to describe this process, whether it is “assimilation, adaptation, integration, incorporation and diasporic citizenship?” (34)

Figure 1: Cultural Psychology of Immigrants Book Cover.
Pedraza also mentions the internal colonialism model that is a major challenge to assimilation theory. The theoretical aim of this model is to delineate the ways in which the experiences of racial minorities like the indigenous people such as Native Americans and the oldest immigrants such as Mexicans, Blacks and Puerto Ricans differentiate from White European immigrants’ experiences at the turn of the century.

The internal colonization model proposes that the experiences of the two groups differed significantly from white European immigrants because their race and colour determined their place and role in the production system they occupied (Pedraza 36; Blauner 400). Proponents of the theory believe this is a result of voluntary and involuntary migration and forced and unforced adoption of cultural values.

The internal colonisation model is relevant to my thesis topic research because I wish to examine how the traumatic effects of colonisation impacts upon Native American identity and culture.

Works Cited

Blauner, Robert. “Internal Colonialism and Ghetto Revolt.” Social Problems 16.4 (1969): 393-408. JSTOR. Web. 07 Oct. 2010.

Pedraza, Silvia. “Assimilation or Transnationalism?: Conceptual Models of the Immigrant Experience in America.” Cultural Psychology of Immigrants. Ed. Ramaswami Mahalingam. New Jersey: Erlbraum, 2007. Print.


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Silent Star Breaks Sweetheart: The Irish-Immigrant Cinderella Story of Amarilly of Clothes-line Alley (1918) (12 October 2010)

Release date: 11 March 1918.
Director: Marshall Neilan (Irish-American).
Starring: Mary Pickford, Norman Kerry and William Scott.

Mary Pickford stars as Amarilly Jenkins, the Irish tenement dweller in the ethnic neighborhood of Clothes-line Alley, as the title of the film suggests. The linking of Amarilly with her ethnic neighbourhood is another example of conveying the ethnic geography of America, and the symbiotic relationship between urban setting and ethnic identity. In the film, the city is coded as a community, but it is also coded as a potentially dangerous place. This is conveyed by the exoticism and threatening nature of Chinatown where Terry gets shot at randomly, which is exemplifies America’s xenophobia from the influx foreign nationalities.

Pickford’s performance vindicates the vast fandom she attracted. Even though she is not performing as the American sweetheart, which is a persona molded by her fans, her star persona shines through Amarilly’s poverty-stricken veneer. Young observes that Pickford associated her Irishness with such virtues as hard working, resiliency, matriarchy and humour (65). These qualities are evident in her role as Amarilly and other characters she played.

The plot of the film is a fish-out-of-water tale with quasi-Cinderella overtones. The upper-class, gentleman falling in love with the poor, working-class girl is a familiar trope that has been rehashed many times since in movies like Pretty Woman(1990) and Maid in Manhattan(2002) to name but a few. Like the majority of movies employing this trope, an event occurs so the path of the poor, working-class woman converges with the upper-class man. This develops in Amarilly when Gordon is taken home by Amarilly after a fight breaks out. The fight scene that Amarilly engages with is comical because Pickford fully embraces the fighting-Irish stereotype. In a humorous and melodramatic fashion she pretends to roll up her imaginary sleeves and punches the air with her fist while jeering on Gordon and the other men as if she were one of the men about to engage in boxing.

This image of the rough-and-tumble, tomboyish Amarilly, which is a symptom of living in the dog-eat-dog world of the immigrant tenement, juxtaposes sharply with the image of the upperclass, social butterfly that Mrs. Stuyvesant Philips’ attempts to create, as part of her upper-class Pygmalion experiment. Amarilly’s make-over involves the washing away of the filth of the tenement, but this process is also an ethnic cleansing, as the defining, physiognomic features of her Irish ethnicity-her wild, frizzy hair-are cleansed, tamed and contorted in order to conform to the WASP stands of beauty and to see if she can be equated with upper-class society.

The differences between the two ethnic groups-White Anglo-Saxon Protestants and the poor, working-class Irish immigrants-is accentuated at the society dinner. The dance the Jenkins performed during the dance scene symbolise their Irish ethnic identity and implies the stereotype of the Irish as dancers, which is intermingled with the stereotype of the fighting-Irish from the ‘Round 1’ and ‘Round 2’ inter-titles that are displayed between each round of dancing. Their ability to dance is seen as an innate thing. However, the inability of the society matrons to perform the other’s dance suggests one’s inability to perform another ethnic identity. As can be seen, Amarilly’s make-over doesn’t make her an upper-class, WASP lady because it is inauthentic. Her true ethnic identity cannot be contained under the false facade Mrs. Philips has applied to her. Even though her previous Irish-American comic dress is striped off her and replaced with the frilly dress of civility, her ethnic identity prevails, which suggests that ethnicity transcends materiality, and is not something that can be worn and discarded like a piece of clothing.

This is also apparent from Amarilly’s family who despite having dressed up for the occasion of the dinner, cannot retain the demeanor of upperclass civility for long. Ma Jenkins inadvertently offends one of the matrons by questioning her about if she does laundry and her reaction suggests her working-class background (Young 72).

Ma Jenkins is performed by Kate Price. As well as Pickford, she is a truly amazing character because of her depiction of the stereotypical Irish mother-figure, which is both humorous and sentimental. Her ability to raise a family in a foreign country without a husband demonstrates her resilience and strength, but it is also a reflection of what some immigrant mothers endured. Shannon maintains that Irish immigrants had the “weakest family structure of any of the major European immigrant groups” (81).

Although seriocomic-romance films are not a part of my favorite genre viewing-list, I admire this film for its realistic portrayal of the Irish immigrants’ experience, the film’s setting, which replicates tenement dwellings and the depiction of the prejudicial treatment of immigrants by the upper-class, WASP community, which is predicated on their socioeconomic and ethnic status. In this film, however, Irishness is represented in a certain way, which stems from theatre and vaudeville. Despite the all-too-predictable happy-ending of the film that provides us a glimpse of Amarilly’s life five years into the future, where her clothes and the act of performing leisure time- as they appear to be on a Sunday drive in the country-implies the elevation of her social status from gutter-snipe to Bourgeoise, middle-class, and her assimilation into mainstream American society. Leisure time-the act of retreating to the pastoral-is associated with authenticity because one retreats to the pastoral in order to be renewed. This is apparent in other films such as Deliverance(1972), Grizzly Man(2005) and Into the Wild(2007). In Deliverance the retreat to the pastoral of the remote, Georgia wilderness is an attempt to reassert masculinity, which is a problematic goal as can be seen from the film.

Works Cited & Consulted

Barton, Ruth. ed and intro. Screening Irish America: Representing Irish-Americans in Film and Television. Dublin: Irish Academic P, 2009. Print.

Shannon, Christopher. “The Bowery Cinderella: Gender, Class and Community in Irish-American Film Narrative.” em>Screening Irish America: Representing Irish-Americans in Film and Television. Dublin: Irish Academic P, 2009. 77-90. Print.

Young, Gwenda. “Funny Girls: Early American Screen Comdiennes and Ethnicity.” Screening Irish America: Representing Irish-Americans in Film and Television. Dublin: Irish Academic P, 2009. 61-76. Print.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wBTg-Qo378&feature=related%5D


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Paradise Alley 06 October 2010

Figure 1: Paradise Alley Book Cover. Amazon. Web. 10 Oct. 2010.

Today I read Kevin Baker’s Paradise Alley because it also touches upon issues raised in Gangs of New York. In Gangs of New York, Scorsese focuses on the immigrant experience from a predominantly male centric perspective. While, on the other hand, Baker’s Paradise Alley portrays it from a female perspective with eyewitness immediacy. Baker’s female characters demonstrate moments of early feminism when they unite in a few scenes of terror. These acts of bravery imply that immigrant women require equal amounts of courage and endurance as the men.

Gangs of New York 06 October 2010

Figure 1: Bill the Butcher and Co.


Figure 2: Gangs of New York Poster

Researching Riis’s photography inspired me to re-watch Gangs of New York (2002) again because of Scorsese’s depiction of urban criminality enacted and experienced by immigrants in 19th Century, Lower Manhattan. Paula J. Massood views Scorsese’s films through the lens of ethnic geography, which is the study of ecological and spatial aspects of ethnicity. Massood observes in her essay, “From Mean Streets to Gangs of New York”, that most of Scorsese’s films have a relationship with the city and that these films expose a connection between urban space and ethnicity (77-78). Ethnic geography is evident in Gangs of New York from the ethnic neighbourhood in Five Points, Lower Manhattan where Irish immigrants have created an ethnic residential quarters in order to maintain group cohesiveness.

The protagonist Amsterdam evokes New York City in his voiceover narration as “a city full of tribes and war chiefs” (Gangs of New York). Despite the anarchic inferno of rioting, public hangings, knife throwing exhibitions and bare-knuckle boxing, Amsterdam considers his milieu to be “a cauldron in which a great city might be forged” (Gangs of New York). After the draft riots, the pivotal event in the film, Amsterdam concludes that “our great city was born in blood and tribulation” which emphasizes the contribution of working class immigrants to modern society’s catastrophic birth but also their exploitation in the process. In a review for New York Times, Scott accurately sums up Scorsese’s Old New York as “a gaudy multi-ethnic carnival of misrule, music and impromptu theatre, a Breughel painting come to life” (n. pag.). Scorsese’s film captures the brutality involved in the forging and evolution of this country into a cultural and ethnic melting pot or what Travis Bickle from Taxis Driver (1976) calls a boiling cauldron. Akin to the bloody aftermath of the discovery of America, the birth of the American nation is baptised by the blood of fighting immigrants.

Works Cited

Massood, Paula J. “From Mean Streets to Gangs of New York: Ethnicity and Urban Space in the films of Martin

Scorsese.” City that Never Sleeps: New York and the Filmic Imagination. Ed. Murray Pomerance. New York: Rutgers, 2007. Print.

Scott, A. O. “Gangs of New York Film Review: To Feel A City Seethe.” New York Times. 20 Dec. 2002. Web. 06 Oct. 2010.

Progressive Era (1890-1920) 05 October 2010

“The longer we captivate someone and make them think about what they are seeing, the better chance we have of them understanding what it is we’re trying to say with the photography.” (Nighswander qtd. in Horton 223)

Figure 1: Kidnapping scene. The Black Hand (1906). 2011.

Early American films, photography and immigration from the Progressive era were the topics of discussion in today’s class. One of the silent films from what is known as the “primitive era” or “early cinema period” we examined is The Black Hand (1906). It is classed as the first gangster film and this is apparent from its titular connotations. The signing of the appellation “Black Hand” to a letter is associated with the Italian mafia’s means of communicating the significance of a threat, which will only conclude with death if requests are not fulfilled. The threat anxiety gangsters inflicted on society is symptomatic of a national xenophobia concerning the then-present mistrust of foreigners in the US. America’s treatment of white European immigrants in comparison to the treatment of blacks and Native Americans is a topic I am interested in because it exposes the racial inequalities of America’s race relations.

The film also differentiates between America’s perception of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ immigrant by juxtaposing the non-assimilated, gang affiliated criminal with the hard-working, partially assimilated, butcher.

The moral bifurcation of immigrants is also evident from Jacob Riis’s photography. Riis was one of the first photojournalists of America who later became known as “the great Emancipator of the slums” (qtd. in Quirke 561). Photography was the most important propagandist tool of the Progressive era because it could be utilised to reinforce social ideologies.

Figure 2: Jacob Riis’s “Bandits’ Roost” (1888). Web. 2011

The title of this photograph is “Bandit’s Roost” (1888) (see figure 2) which is the name of an alleyway in Manhattan’s Five Points neighbourhood, which is also the setting of the Scorsese’s film, Gangs of New York (2002).
The criminality of the immigrants is conveyed through their body language, the light and dark contrasts of the background and the weaponry in the foreground of the photograph. Riis is particularly interested in the concept of illumination, which conveys connotations of revelation and religion. His photography is illuminating their situation, while the photographic usage of light and its absence suggests the divine intervention he intends from social reformation.

There is also a sense of community apparent from the tight knit, proximity of the immigrants’ residency, which is sustained by the loyalty-at-all-costs ethos cementing their social unity. Martin Scorsese’s films emphasize the importance of group morality and intergroup loyalty in his microcosmic depiction of the mafia ethos.

Consequently, early American film and photography capture the social issues concerning immigrants, occupying America’s social consciousness.

Works Cited

Horton, Brian. Associated Press Guide to Photojournalism. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001. Print.

Quirke, Carol. “Picturing the Poor: Jacob Riis Reform Photography.” Reviews in American History 36.4 (2008): 557-565. Project Muse. Web. 05 Oct. 2010.

 


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Jewish American Literature and Culture 05 October 2010


Immigration, Jewish American culture and literature were the topics of discussion in the first class of the Strand A section of our course. Photographs of immigrants, immigrant conditions on board the ships and immigrants passing through Ellis Island’s quarantine provided a starting point for our discussion.


Figure 2 & 3: Photograph of immigrants on board ship and Ellis Island quarantine. Blackboard Lecture Slides.

The photographs in Figure 2 & 3 visually convey the hardship and degradation of immigration that is conveyed verbally through the words of Anzia Yezierska in Bread Givers.


Although Abraham Cahan’s The Rise of David Levinsky is classed as the primary Yiddish novel in America, I think Yezierska’s masterpiece is more deserving of the title. This is not simply because it provides a first-hand, personal observation of an immigrants lifestyle in the Lower East Side of New York from a semi-autobiographical, Jewish perspective, but also because of the reciprocal interplay of language. The languages shift from Yiddish to English is symptomatic of the process of progressive assimilation. The language in the novel is profoundly Jewish, even though it is written in English. Yezierska’s ability to express the rhythms of Yiddish syntax surpasses Jewish American novelists such as Bernard Malamud and Henry Roth. Yezierska’s first generation English is apparent from the domination of her mame-loshn (mother tongue) on her English sentence structure.

The characters in Bread Givers give the reader a taste of the language from the Yiddish inflection they speak with, but the narrative voice is also at times expressed with a Yiddish lilt. One example of this is when Sara says “exchange with them my thoughts, break with them bread at their tables” (…). Yezierska’s positioning of “with them” prior to the noun instead of after it may not only lead to syntactic ambiguity, but it also demonstrates the interaction of bilingualism on her writing.

Consequently, despite the numerous typographical errors littering the novel that the publishers claim have been amended, Bread Givers is a superb text recounting the immigrant experience with an emotionally, evocative style. It immerses its reader in the world of Sara’s struggles and her acclimatization to her harsh, foreign milieu.

Works Cited
Lazarus, Emma. “The New Colossus.” Xerox.
Yezierska, Anna. Bread Givers. New York: Peresa Books, 1999. Print.

Progressive Era (1890-1920)

 


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“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” (T.S. Eliot)

Welcome to my blog on American Literature and Film which I am constructing for the Master’s degree from the National University of Ireland, Cork.

My blog is a digitized form of the research journal to be completed as part of my course.

This assignment requires me to fulfil four tasks:

Task (1): To visit the Cobh Heritage Centre (http://www.cobhheritage.com) and write a report on the exhibition, on immigrants and relate it to the seminar texts on immigration and immigrants. (750 words/20 marks)

Task (2): To prepare a Powerpoint document and presentation on one of the following topics:

  1. Harlem Renaissance
  2. America in the 1920s
  3. Jewish American writers pre-1960
  4. Nathanael West

(1000 words/50 marks)

Task (3): To write a diary recording your evolving knowledge (including assessment of class discussions) of one of the following topics:

  1. American Modernism
  2. American society and immigrant experience
  3. American society and race
  4. American society and ethnicity

(1250 words/30 marks)

Task (4): By independently researching on the internet, students should write a report on contemporary attitudes to the America South/plantation myths, etc. (1000 words/20 marks)

As well as fulfilling these tasks, I will use my blog to document my findings, views and opinions from class discussions, reading, and research which I deem relevant to developing my research journal.


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