Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Melamed, Jodi

Second Advisor

Canavan, Gerry

Third Advisor

Hathaway, Heather

Abstract

In my dissertation, I investigate how 20th and 21st century literature depicts new transnational identities that challenge the conventional understanding that belonging and identity are routed primarily through the nation-state. Specifically, I focus on those narratives within immigrant literature that address the lived experiences and consequent identity formations of forced migrants: individuals, families, and communities displaced from their country or region of origin and forced to inhabit spaces with which they often have no prior familiarity. This literature challenges the idea that a spectrum of lived experiences can be restricted to a codified US nationalism and contained within an identity or set of identities that are uniquely “American.” Literary studies can advance this important topic alongside the interdisciplinary fields of migration studies, international law, and sociology, and a study of forced migration narratives can help to broaden the definition of cosmopolitanism to one that includes an individual, family, or community living inside the nation-state, but whose cultural ties transcend any notion of defined borders or a single national belonging.The assumption of place and cultural (or political) allegiance cannot withstand the observable expressions of transnational identities in forced migrant narratives, and the interdisciplinary fields of both literary studies and American studies have much to contribute to this issue. Assimilating these stories into the collective “immigrant literature” genre not only dismisses the importance of the violence of forced migration from the realm of cosmopolitan experiences, but it also denies that trauma a voice of its own. Global citizenship does not just come from an abundance of resources and the desire to use those resources internationally for personal gain, or even for geopolitical social progress; it also comes from being ripped away from your home and thrust into new environments and circumstances over which you possess no agency, from not having access to governmental support because of your gender, or no access to education because of your religion, and having to create a new life in a new land just to access the most basic of human rights.

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