Another accomplishment of this work lies in its integrated study of fiction and history

Another accomplishment of this work lies in its integrated study of fiction and history

In conclusion, this paper brings literary representations of racism and xenophobia in dialog with sociological, economic, and cultural discourses as well as struggles that took place in history, and which were registered as historical facts. Principally, it explores the reciprocal interaction between different discourses-literary and sociological-in order to situate literature in a dense historical context. The importance of the historical moment resides in the fact that after World War I, and especially during the 1920s, the government passed more biased and severe measures because more immigrants meant more impoverishment to old-stock Americans, and, this culminated in increasing hostilities between old-stock Americans and immigrants.

However, in the 1920s, the situation deteriorated due to the fact that the old-stock American identity underwent a crisis as that period was characterized by episodes of dramatic changes in the texture of the American society

We notice that signs of xenophobia encapsulated in the rejection of foreigners escalated in the country after the second wave of immigration (1820s until 1920s). In the article, we have demonstrated how and why foreigners are illustrated as elements of destruction and moral threat to native-born Americans. The former seduce the latter into dishonest conduct as happens with Babbitt, Clyde, and Carol; or they pave the way to immorality, as is the case with Gatsby and Marsellus. They also pose a threat to the wealth of the native-born Americans. Sometimes they are seen to advance rapidly for different reasons: illegal business (Wolfshiem); their different culture characterized by recklessness allowing girls to work (Bea); or enhancing capitalism by generating an urban, industrial America (Miles Bjornstam, Wolfshiem, and Mersellus). To add, they endanger the existence and identity of the native-born Americans by intermarriages.

We notice that African–Americans are rarely mentioned in the novels, the focus nonetheless is on immigrants or other foreigners. The only possible explanation is that African–Americans were brought to America by the first settlers. However, immigrants or foreigners arrived uninvited in colossal numbers and thus provoked new anxieties.

Although there are evident examples from different sources, political and historical, that support my initial allegation as to the anxiety conveyed in all the novels discussed in this paper that foreigners have a dominant role in boosting the capitalistic system in America, there is also proof that Americans themselves are boosters of capitalism. However, criticism is more biting when the foreigner is involved because it is always easier to blame the other than oneself. Let’s not forget that racism and xenophobia do not end here. These issues are still controversial when it comes to America. Even today, it is easy to find incidents of intolerance in literature or in the media.

Most critical debates in the scholarship on the proposed authors tend to focus upon apparent themes in their texts, such as class, gender and capitalism and/or materialism. That is, in their attempts to understand these authors, critics neglect some of the significant motifs. For example, they largely dismiss the themes of racism and xenophobia apparent in the authors’ works and which are related not only to the literary field but also to political discourses.

It is my contention that such handling by critics betrays other themes that have been overlooked

In fact, challenges of immigration did not prevail only in the 1920s but also in the late nineteenth century through the early twentieth century. In particular, the period of 1900–1919 indicates the immigration-restriction policy of the successive US governments. It also signifies the feeling of the nation which laid the groundwork for a climate of xenophobia and bigotry. However, the combination of new waves of immigration after WWI with the changes that hit America in the 1920s in such a short period is what makes this an interesting study: the Red Scare, Prohibition, the revolution of morals and values, Al Capone, President Harding’s scandals, Black Tuesday, The KKK, Big Bull Market, The Jazz Age, and more. It is vital to note that the hostility toward immigrants was condoned by the US government which passed anti-immigration laws. Hence, this epoch marked the zenith of enacting such laws.

The relentlessly biased policy against immigrants could be illustrated by the Sacco-Vanzetti case. In 1922 two immigrant Italian radicals, Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were accused of murdering two men and sentenced to death by Judge Webster Thayer in 1927. Sympathetic public pressure and a series of bombings and boycotts did not end the contentious trial. In response to the judge’s verdict, Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter called for a new trial and claimed that those people had been convicted only because they were Italian immigrants, accusing the judge of prejudice (Frankfurter, 1927 ).

Walter Benn Michaels inspects the way some writers like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald associate money with races. He argues that The Great Gatsby shows how “our society” is classified by race instead of “economic classes.” He presents a definitive depiction of the 1920s as a zenith of racial science. Hence, for Fitzgerald, according to Michaels, it is not money that makes people belong to a special race but what they are. For Hemingway too the importance of Robert Cohn in The Sun Also Rises (Hemingway, 1926 ) does not lie in that he has money, but rather in the “force” this “little kike” represents as “race-consciousness” (Michaels, 2006 , p. 2). This is definitely resonant of one of Dreiser’s remarks recorded by his secretary Evelyn Light during an editorial Conference in 1934: “the world’s quarrel with the Jew is not that he is inferior, but that he is superior” (Loving, 2005 , p. 367). Michaels claims that in the 1920s the notion of cultural identity was reinvented and became itself a form of racism; that is, connected to whiteness. Hence, America’s cultural identity was defined through white supremacism. For Michaels, modernism and social nativism as they appeared in the 1920s played a vital role in determining the later meanings of pluralism, multiculturalism, race, and identity. Thus, Michaels recontextualizes the works of Cather, Dreiser, Lewis and others as having shaped, or rather re-shaped, the American identity (Michaels, 1955 , pp. 8–30).

Adrian Piper defines xenophobia as “a special case of a more general cognitive phenomenon, namely the disposition to resist the intrusion of anomalous data of any kind into a conceptual scheme whose internal rational coherence is necessary for preserving a unified and rationally integrated self” (2). A xenophobe refuses to accept any unusual or strange influences so as to preserve his self/identity. This leads Piper to define xenophobia as “fear of a particular kind of stranger, one who does not comply with collective norms or behaviors, rather than fear of strangers in general.” In this context, xenophobia is “a paradigm case of resistance to the intrusion of anomalous data into an internally coherent conceptual scheme-a threat to the unity of the self defined by it” (Piper, 2012 , p. 3).

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