The tyranny of plot :

The tyranny of plot :

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The tyranny of plot : anzia yezierska's struggle to free the voices of her community through the autobiographical self
Dowling, Kristie Kelly
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[Tampa, Fla]
University of South Florida
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American Dream
Dissertations, Academic -- Literature Ethnic Studies -- Masters -- USF ( lcsh )
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ABSTRACT: This thesis explores the very different ways that both the novel and autobiography mediate individual and group identities by comparing Anzia Yezierska's novel <italic>Salome of the Tenements</italic> to her autobiography <italic>Red Ribbon on a White Horse</italic>. Yezierska's texts establish the inherent difference between the novel and autobiography in that her novels contribute to the dominant ideology by colluding with the capitalist narrative of individualism while her autobiography resists that very narrative. In calling forth the multiple voices of her community, her autobiography reveals, in a series of metatextual comments, the fictional nature of the self and autobiography. Comparing these two narrative modes, and using the concept of the self as defined by Lacan, I will illustrate the trappings of the novel's construction, its emphasis on verb and the form of rising action, conflict, climax and resolution (what I call "the tyranny of the plot") to the sublimation of character. In foregoing character for plot, Yezierska's novels caricature Jewish identity in a way which ultimately engenders and reinforces Jewish stereotypes and also Jewish self-hatred. However, I will also argue that Yezierska's autobiography resists capitalism's master narrative of the American Dream in ways that her fiction simply does not and cannot. Not only is <italic>Red Ribbon on a White Horse</italic> under-studied, but the lack of any real comparative study between any immigrant fiction and immigrant autobiography is surprising. While many have theorized immigrant autobiography, there are few studies which have tried to understand the very real differences in these two modes.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2011.
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by Kristie Kelly Dowling.

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The tyranny of plot :
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b anzia yezierska's struggle to free the voices of her community through the autobiographical self
by Kristie Kelly Dowling.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 59 pages.
(M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2011.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
3 520
ABSTRACT: This thesis explores the very different ways that both the novel and autobiography mediate individual and group identities by comparing Anzia Yezierska's novel Salome of the Tenements to her autobiography Red Ribbon on a White Horse. Yezierska's texts establish the inherent difference between the novel and autobiography in that her novels contribute to the dominant ideology by colluding with the capitalist narrative of individualism while her autobiography resists that very narrative. In calling forth the multiple voices of her community, her autobiography reveals, in a series of metatextual comments, the fictional nature of the self and autobiography. Comparing these two narrative modes, and using the concept of the self as defined by Lacan, I will illustrate the trappings of the novel's construction, its emphasis on verb and the form of rising action, conflict, climax and resolution (what I call "the tyranny of the plot") to the sublimation of character. In foregoing character for plot, Yezierska's novels caricature Jewish identity in a way which ultimately engenders and reinforces Jewish stereotypes and also Jewish self-hatred. However, I will also argue that Yezierska's autobiography resists capitalism's master narrative of the American Dream in ways that her fiction simply does not and cannot. Not only is Red Ribbon on a White Horse under-studied, but the lack of any real comparative study between any immigrant fiction and immigrant autobiography is surprising. While many have theorized immigrant autobiography, there are few studies which have tried to understand the very real differences in these two modes.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Cooper, Tova .
American Dream
Dissertations, Academic
x Literature Ethnic Studies
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
4 856


The Tyranny of Plot: the Autobiographical Self by Kristie Dowling A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of English College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Tova Cooper, Ph D Su san Mooney, Ph. D. Phillip Sipiora, Ph. D. Date of Approval : Marc h 20 2011 Keywords: immigrant capitalism, narrative Lacan American Dream Copyright 2011, Kristie Dowling


Dedication I dedicate this thesis to my husband Steven who has been extremely supportive of my work, taking our two youn g (and precocious) daughters out of the house every weekend while I worked throughout my graduate degree. Without him, I would have nothing meaningful. I would also like to dedicate this to my director, Tova Cooper, who believed in my ability and intelli gence and therefore, helped me to believe in myself. Thank you.


i Table of Contents Abstract ................................ ................................ ................................ .............................. ii Introduction ................................ ................................ ................................ .......................... 1 The Ideology of the Individual and Authorial Agency ................................ ........................ 4 The Immigrant Experience and the Novel as an Agent of the Dominant Capitalist Ideology ................................ ................................ ................................ ................. 1 3 Salome of the Tenements and its Collusion with the American Dream Discourse ............ 2 0 Red Ribbon on a White Horse and the Resistance of the Self to Individuation ................. 3 5 Works Ci ted ................................ ................................ ................................ ....................... 5 1


ii Abstract This thesis explore s the very different ways that both the novel and autobiography Salome of the Tenements to her autobiography Red Ribbon on a White Horse establish the inherent difference between the novel and autobiography in that her novels contribute to the dominant ideology by colluding with the capitalist narrative of individualism while her autobiography resists that very narrative. In calling forth the multiple voices of her community, her autobiography reveals, in a series of metatextual comments, the fictional nature of the self and autobiography itself. Comparing these two narrative modes, and using the concept of the self as d efined by Lacan, I will illustrate the trappings identity in a way which ultimately engenders and reinforces Jewish stereotypes and also Jewish self hatred. However, I will also argue that Yezier master narrative of the American Dream in ways that her fiction sim ply does not and cannot Not only is Red Ribbon on a White Horse under studied, but the lack of any real comparative study between any immigrant fictio n and immigrant autobiography i s surprising. While many have theorized immigrant autobiography, there are few studies which have tried to understand the very real differences in these two modes


1 Introduction What would be the good of writing unless I wrote what I felt, the way I felt it? Why must I sq ueeze myself into a plot? Anzia Yezierska Red Ribbon on a White Horse Much attention has been devoted to the domi nance of both the novel and the autobiography in the past two centuries. In 1920, Georg Lukcs wrote that the novel is In 1981, M. M. Bakhtin suggested the overwhelming domin ance of the novel when he wrote an alien species. It gets on poorly with other genres. It fights for its own hegemony in literature; whenever it triumphs, the othe r older genres go i ). Whereas epic and tragedy have been forced into retirement, the novel still seems to be in a 73), and autobiography has prompted so much recent attention since the 1980 that critics no longer question its exist ence as a serious mode of study. 1 It alone survives th While the success of the novel and autobiography in the modern age can hardly be disputed, their emergence as two both cooperating and compe ting genres has been under theorized While a complete comparative study is not at all my aim, I will explore the very different ways that both the novel and autobiography mediate individual and group 1 Sidonie Smith, in her 1987 book (after which much criticism has followed) Autobiography ms to be talking about autobiography, a genre critics described until recently as a kind of flawed biography at worst, (3).


2 i dentities by comparing Anzia Yezierska Salome of the Tenements to her autobiography Red Ribbon on a White Horse The comparison of these two texts demonstrates the difficulties for an immigrant woman to negotiate an identity between old world and n ew, the Tsarist regime in Russia and American c apit alism in the early part of the twentieth century. establish the inherent difference s between the novel and autobiography in that her novels contribute to the dominant ideology by colluding with the capitalist narrative of individualism while her autob iography resists that very narrative. In calling forth the multiple voices of her community her autobiography reveals, in a series of metatextual comments, the fictional nature of the self and autobiography itself Comparing these two narrative modes will illustrate the trappings co nstruction, its emphasis on the verb and the form of rising action, conflict, climax and resolution (what 2 ) to the sublimation of character. In foregoing character for plot, caricature Jewish identity in way s which ultimately engender and reinforce Jewish stereotypes and also Jewish self hatred W hile William Boelhower argues that immigrant themselves off as Americans by didactically copying and promoting officia lly acceptable behavioral codes (127), I will argue autobiography resist s this mas ter American narrative in ways that her fiction simply does 2 As I was revising Virginia Woolf and the Tyranny of P women modernists like Virginia Woolf defy traditional tyrannical notions of plot and narrative through lyricism I argue, on the contrary, that the tyranny of plot is an inherent condition of the fictional narrative form, but that certain authors, includi ng Yezierska and also Woolf Friedman suggests that character actually is just another translation of the ego (165). While I agree that character can be an expression of the ego, Yezierska expresses in her autobiography the voices and characters of her community, not merely of her individual ego, as will become clear throughout this paper. ve form.


3 not and cannot Not o nly is Red Ribbon on a White Horse under studied, but the lack of any real comparative study between any immigrant fiction and immigrant autobiography is surprising. While many have theor ized immigrant autobiography, there are few studies which have tried to understand the very real d ifferences in these two modes. 3 3 The Rise of David Levinsky and his autobiography The Edu cation of Abraham Cahan hungry stereotype and capitalist individualism whil e his autobiography speaks a multiplicity of voices as it tells the story of h is socialism. See also Henry Call it Sleep for yet another look at a Jewish novel that demonizes the Jew in the figure of the domineering and abusive father. In ad makes clear, Louis Adamic, while not Jewish, also allows his characters to overwhelm his autobiography in similar ways to both Yezierska and Cahan. While the scope of this paper is limited, the claims I will make suggest th at a la rger comparative study of immigrant narrative is necessary.


4 The Ideology of the Individual and Authorial Agency The very fact that the novel and autobiography have flourish ed during similar historical moments needs first to be examined. Many critics have suggested that the birth and tenacity of the novel and the burgeoning modern autobiography emerge from the relatively recent empha sis on the individual (which also corresponds to th e birth of c apitalism 4 ) and the loss of a narrative cente r (God) to which the self can relat e For example, Peter Brooks places the need for narrative (which he terms plot) in the loss of a The enormous narrative production of the nineteenth century may suggest an anxiety at the loss of providential plots: the plotting of the individual or social or institutional life story takes on a new urgency when one no longer can look to a sacred masterplot that organizes and explains the world (203) While Brooks e nunciates equally as significant, a term which suggests (as he himself claims) an individuality that becomes both the center of fiction and of autobiography. Lukcs also characterizes the novel as essentially about the strivings of the tual system which can never completely capture life and a life complex which can never attain completeness 4 self


5 eternally attempts to construct the outside world mimetically ( in t he form of a plot ) at the same time as it attempts to capture an individual life, a life that is, of course, eternally fictive and eternally elusive. w the nature of reality and his own inner self as the theory of Jacques Lacan can help us to understand. According to Lacan identification with a The misapprehension of a whole self that we imagine when we gaze at ourselves in the mirror parallels the misapprehension of a whole and complete individual that we reconstruct every time we read a novel. Furthermore, the mi rror determination, in a fictional direction, which will always remain irreducible for the individual The way that the child in the mirror view s the self as a unifi ed al a fiction that Our ontological self as a whole, unified he self with the description of characters (4) and of the individual, knowable self Every time we read a novel, every time we think we know a character, w e own individual agency. This alliance between the novel and its premise of the individual self succeeds in linking the novel to autobiography as Lukcs suggests when he calls between the two


6 genres rony ; the novel deceives organic quality which is revealed a gain and again as illusory While the novel may premise a fiction, the skill of its composition eternally force s the reader to forget and then remember its position as fiction. This state of the novel as both continuously attempting to reconstruct reality in an , corresponds to inks the novel to what he calls Barthes co ntends, the novel and narrated h its past: The teleology common to the Novel and to narrated History is the alienation of the facts: the preterite [ a past tense form ] is the very act by which society affirms its possession of its past and its possibility. It creates a content credible, yet flaunted as an illusion; it is the ultimate term of a formal dialectics which clothes an unreal fact in the garb first of truth then of a lie denounced as such. This has to be related to a certain mythology of the universal typifying the bourgeois society of which the Novel is a characteristic product ( 77 ) Situating the birth of th e individual with the birth of c apitalism, Barthes links the use of the preterite to both the novel and narrated history and also to an emergence of the While Barthes, Luk cs and Brooks all describe the novel and autobiography ( biography and Barthes istory) as deriving from a particular


7 moment in history one driven by the emergence of the individ ual as an ideological construct (the verb whose action has already been complete d in the past) as the driving force of narrative to be an important one that guides my understanding of the differences between the novel and autobiography, at least when autobiography is not one of great men and great deeds. I would argue, however, t hat while the preterite is significant in that it suggests an ownership of the past, an attempt to construct a narrative which imagines itself as history, the verb in general becomes the motivating force of narrative Verbs are the impetus of fiction, dri ving ever forward the action or plot of the novel in ways that refuse to admit the individual/collective consciousness struggling within and beneath the text. I also align myself with Peter Brooks , reevaluation of the centrality of plot narrative, their logic and articulation and Brooks emphasize s the importance of the ve rb in the novel using a militaristic metaphor; t he plot arms itself with verbs. Verbs act in w ays that forcefully draw the reader into the story and essentially act as thugs to a tyrannical plot The action, suspense and climax all rel y on the verb to se form s is very much d riven by the tyranny of the verb to the service of a domineering plot The plot driven narrative only works to disguise the protagonist as a unified and thus knowable character. Thus, just as we misrecognize ourselves in the mirro misrecognize the central character as essentially whole and complete, denying, with each character we encounter, the multiplicity of ourselves (6 7).


8 The totalizing action of the plot ultimately forces the realistic novel, which seemed so much to preface the importanc e of the individual, to denigrate the main character to a secondary position in the narrative cs 83). More import antly, when plot assumes a central position in a narrative, it often strips the very authors who try to manipulate it of all agency, forcing the immigrant writer in particular to ape the ideology of the domin ant culture Yet even this premise of a dominan t culture is a myth. As we attempt to construct a vision of ourselves as unified and knowable, we also attempt to construct a vision of our society as a unified whole, thus informing the melting pot metaphor. The melting pot transforms and reduces multip licity into a singular and unified body politic. This myth of a unified culture then forces immigrant writers of the early twentieth century ( like Y ezierska) to conform to meet market demands and finally to strive to achieve the very American Dream they c onstruct in their novels Responding to the dearth of characterization prior to the 1920s, Vladi mir Propp has demonstrated that the folktale remains a simplified form because of the limited number (eight) of character possibilities : the Villain, the Dono r, the Helper, the Princess and her Father, the Dispatcher, the Hero an d the False Hero (21). Because main function is to instruct through the telling of a story, because the plot is so central to the tale, there is simply n o room in the na rrative for explorations of character. While only refers to folktal e, I would argue that the realistic novel also essentializes character in the drive of the plot 5 While the central character may seem fleshed out, may seem as if it lives and breath e s Elizabeth Bennet 5 While the realist novel often relegates character to a secon dary position to the plot, the modernist novel The Modern Novel: A Short Introduction


9 her importance in the narrative only exists in relation to her actions (or even her lack of action) Elizabeth is who she is becaus e of her relation to the events that surround her The genius of the realistic novel is in its essential disguise of the sublimation of character to plot The emphasis on character over plot i n the world of higher education has made reading for the plot the academic discourse that condemns the importance of plot merely functio ns to conceal its utmost centrality in the realistic narrative. By discounting plot reinforcing its own powerful ideology. The reverse can be said of the real emphasis on the individual character who ostensibly adopts a certain psychological depth. O ften that depth is merely a mirage, and while seem ingly full of life and breath is reduced to a single word: Pride An d yet highlighting the plot is no better. T he more the narrative affirms the centrality of its plot, the action of the story, the more character becomes merely a cumbersome problem, often leading the author t o use types instead of fleshed out charact ers. E.M. For ster explains easily remembered by the reader afterwards. They remain in his mind as unalterable for the reason that they were not changed by circumstances; they moved through circumstanc es, which gives them in retrospect a comforting quality, and preserves them when the book that produced them may decay (36) While For ster ironically sees an advantage in using character types, I perceive more obvious ly a particular danger in employing the m. If their very simplicity is their strength, then the stereotypical character, in its very familiarity, remains a fixed motif in the head of the reader long after the book is closed. The typed character and, by extension, the


10 stereotypical character, w an even greate r more subconscious power than the character who demonstrates so called psychological depth. While we may remember Humbert Humbert for years to come, we internalize the characteristics of character types like the overbearing mother Charlotte Hayes. If a s we alluded to before, a novel driven by plot strips the author of agency a n autobiographer, on the other hand, often demonstrates a particularly potent f orm of agency It often appears however, that a utobiographies especially those privileged because they are written by so attempt to subsume characte r to the Conversely autobiographies written on the margins of so ciety (as are immigrant autobiographies ) have been successful in r esisting the tyranny of the plot and locating instead the collective and individual consciousness buried within the text While the novel prefaces the event, the action, the structure of conflict, crisis and resolution, the autobiography, because it must at least resemble real life, 6 often refuses this neat construction, instead allowing character to emerge as the driving force of the autobiographical narrative. This elevation of characte r admits a place for consciousness both individual and collective, which a focus on the verb and plot simply does not. Although Luckcs, Barthes and others have illustrate d an important codependency between the no vel and autobiography, the dominance of the two genres at the particular cultural, e conomic and historical moment of the nineteenth century aligned with an ideology of individualism has led these critics to link the two modes far mo re completely than is warranted. Early theorists of autobiography, for example, limited their studies to Georges Gusdorf, for example, locates 6 discussed later in the paper.


11 knows hi mself a responsible agent: gatherer of men, of lands, of power, maker of kingdoms or of empires, inventor of laws and of wisdom. He alone adds consciousness verb (man gathering and inventing ) may indeed often force autobiographical subjects into conforming to the demands of the dominant society, as Gusdorf later suggests (31) the marginal a utobiographical subject has indeed proven her own agency in the struggle between the oppressive nature of the dominant culture and her own marginalized existence. In fact, h er very marginality, her exclusion, allows her to write the multiplicity In the last three decades f eminist theorists of autobiography ha ve delineated the possibility for agency. autobiographical s 114). The very fact th at an autobiography is written on the margins allows it to transcend the totalizing narrative of individualism. As Susan Stanford Friedman makes clear: Isolated individualism is an illusion. It is also the privilege of power. A white man has the luxury of forgetting his skin color and sex. He can think of himself cultural hall of mirrors of their sex and color, have no such luxury (75). In essence, then, women and minorities from the privileges of power Their texts refuse to participate in the totalizing narrative of individualism and in their very inability to mime the dominant culture necessarily contain more agency


12 As autobiography written on the margins is persons, reviewed and corrected by the demands of propaganda and by the general sense (Gusdorf 31), those marginal autobiographical subjects often resist the urge to become agents of ideology, resist ing also the tyranny of plot Instead, autobiography self The m arginal autobiographical subject acknowledges the fiction o f the mirror stage, acknowledging also the inability of language to communicate otherwise, no matter how convincing it may seem.


13 The Immigrant Experience and the Novel as an Agent of the Dominant Capitalist Ideology Before turning to the texts, we must first understand the immigrant experience as it relates to the dominant ideology of the time. Beginning in the 188 mostly Russian controlled regi ons of East ern Europe began coming en masse to America seeki ng refuge from the oppressive Ts arist regime that kept them isolated in ghettos, unable to earn livings, a nd vulnerable to murderous pogroms. 7 By 1915, one in four New Yorkers was Jewish (Goldste in 388). This population boom, once encouraged by both the push of Jewish emigration and the pull of business interests in America, 8 became later a source of anxiety as the sheer number of Jews concentrated in large cities threatened the very character of U.S. society: The overwhel ming numbers, the "foreignness, and the poverty of the new immigrants drew immediate responses from Americans Konzett 600) Unhampered imm igration finally ended in 1924 as the U.S. governmen t began a concerted effort to seriously limit the influx of new immigrants into this country Whereas the growth of U.S. industry demanded a renewed la bor supply, the size of the city itself (particularly New York City) could not seem to contain the immigrant 7 In the first volume of The Education of Abraham Cahan Cahan thoroughly describes the events that led Russian and Eastern European Jews to flee to America. In 1 881, after Tsar Alexander II (whose policies towards the Jews had been relatively benign) was assassinated by radical revolutionaries, many of whom were thought to have been Jewish, the peasants of Russia began a wave of pogroms against the Jews that the new Tsarist regime did nothing to prevent. In addition, many oppressive restrictions were placed on the Jews as to where they could live, what they could do for work, etc. 8 In Capital the amount of workers increasing competition among workers and thus driving down labor prices (789). In this sense, the lack of immigration policy in th e United States until 1924 regardless of the tension throughout the early twentieth century, illustrates quite nicely the attempt by U.S. businesses to flood the labor market. For an explanation of how specifically American business interests encouraged immigration Working Toward Whiteness.


14 population. The ensuing reaction to the congested immigrant communities that tended to spill into other, whiter, parts of the city is fraught with an ap parent overriding contradiction: t he American upper class attempted both to divide immigrants into categories th at kept them separated, in competition with each other and thus less 9 Therefore U.S. society acted both inclus ively and exclusively towards various immigrant groups. David Roediger refers to this contradiction as producing the ef ( 8) was deliberately made ambiguous, fluctuating based upon the needs of society at any given time Businesses both welcomed immigrants and constructed the workplace so as to divide them. 10 The divide and conquer technique is the chief characteristic of c apitalis m as Marx and Engels explain in The Communist Manifesto : into a class, and consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves (46) Even when the U.S. work ing class managed to strengthen in the early part of this century through organized labor 9 75) in Working T oward Whiteness 10 In contradicting Roediger, remained a figure of uncertainty that could not be pinned down to any one set of positive or negative p ambivalence about their changing world. This ambivalence not only affected the place of the Jew in American life, but also interfered with the pow perceived by the dominant culture was not a function of a systematic capitalist ideology but instead it was inherently fraught with contradictions and inc onsistencies characteristic of racial discourse in general. iled study Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in America for a first hand account of the systematic nature of big businesses reaction to the class struggle.


15 (aided by immigration), the bourgeoisie managed to adapt and become s tronger than ever. Alas, the and idealistic vision of an inevitable proletar iat uprising resulting from competition within the bourgeoisie never actually managed to materialize ( Manifesto 45). In his reading of Nietzsche, Foucault describes more clearly the class dy namic that characterized the U.S. during the early par description of force, we can detect an explanation of the forces involved in class war fare Ther e are also times when force [ the bourgeoisie ] contends against itself, and not only in the intoxication of an abundanc e, which allows it to divide itself, but at the moment that it weakens. Force reacts against its growing lassitude and gains strength; it opposes limits, inflicts torments and mortifications; it masks these actions as a higher morality, and in excha nge, r egains its strength. (149 ) as the victorious class in the class war the class that has been successful in its Foucault recognizes the ability of the class in power to adapt even in its greatest moments of hopeful rhetoric ignores). In fact, Foucault implies that a force that dominates is especially strong and especially brutal as it senses itself weakening which would characterize the anti labor movement of the early twent ieth century. 11 At this moment, management adapted, united and tightened its control, using the propaganda of 11 Dynamite for a particularly brutal description of some capitalist strategies used to counteract the growth of labor unions.


16 mo reform to triumph again, something that Yezierska critiques, as I will discuss later. 12 T he U.S. ruling class conceived of a way to triumph through that complex mechanism of inclusion and exclusion noted earlier. Aided by various waves of immigra tion the ruling class in this country was further able to divide the w orking class by imposing racial bo undaries and lim its while con vincing the working class of the genuine nature of race, at once dividing them from within. In addition, the U.S. proclaimed a discourse of upw ard mobility that further a lienated people of the same ethnicities against one anot her. Those who were able to rise into the middle c lass became in return agents of the c apitalist ideology. The ma nagers, bosses and landlords whom Capital 591) th ose who work at helping to keep the poor poor, are me rely victims themselves of U.S. capitalism I n Working Toward Whiteness David Roediger insinuates this dynamic in He exposes the contradictory attitudes of Progressives like Teddy Roosevelt who both appeared to compassionately welcome immigrants and their (cheap) labor and, at the same time, decried the possibility The solution to this was a systematic pr ogram of Americanization which acted as a conquering force a method of whitewashing, of erasing ethnic differences and contradict ory policy, Roediger clarifies the real mot ive behind Americanization. In the new American 12 the activity of the philanthropist, the idealist, the pedagogue, and even the


17 race with an exalted place in the hierarchy of races. The could absorb and permanently improve the less desirable In its act of conquering ethnic identity, t he imperialist impulse to produce puri ty helps to explain the seemingly contradictory at titude towards Eastern European Jews during this time. T he act of Americanization only functioned to emphasize the inherent difference of the subject being transformed into an American. One cannot become white without first being something other than white. Therefore, Americanization promised assimilation or sameness while it constantly reinforced difference. In the process, Americanization made immigrants allies and agents (without agency ) of their own oppression. In being sold the American dream of prosperity (and whiteness) immigrants who did succeed wer e asked to separate from their immigrant communities, thus destroying the collective culture of the Lower East Side 13 The result was a group elevated in the cl ass structure and taught to trample on those below it in an u nrelenting and continuous narrative of labor e xploitation: as Marx explains, exploitation of the worker by capital takes place through the medium of the exploitation Capital 695). The successful immigrant, in the meantime, became the visible oppressor, the di rty spy, the Cossack, while the capitalist elite remained aloof, invisible an d benign. The face of oppression, for the poor immigrant, was not the cap italist who engendered the horrendous indust rial conditions under which poor people worked but rather the newly anointed immigrant manager in the capitalist 13 Catherine Rottenberg argues convincingly that the American Dream rhetoric is an integr al part of which individualism increasingly has been promoted, any kind of sustained class identification has been extremely threatening to hegemonic s capitalism is that the American Dream is responsible for the alienation of the working class from itself. As some move from the working class to the middle, the original working class lose s some of its own strength and class solidarity becomes nearly impossible (63).


18 sy stem: the pawnbroker, the sweat shop foreman, the Americanizing German Jew as we In few p lac e s is the story of U.S. capitalism as pervasive as in the immigrant novel. T a in the eighteenth century 14 is no coincidence as t much mirrors the discourse of c apitalism. Like the novel, the narrative of the American Dream, the essential myth of American capitalism, prefaces a rise, a struggle, and finally a climax of su ccessful rise in class status. Also, I would argue that the lack of agency is informed by the lack of agency inherent in the capitalis t system. While the capitalist (and the novelist) imagines himself to be an ingenious individual creating something out of Capita l 381). Therefore, the system has agency not the capitalist or the novelist. Anzia novels in particular dramatize the story of capitalism and the story of the American Dream. And while they often outwardly critique the capitalist impu lse, the essential forms of her novels ultimately bolster the American Dream ideology Salome of the Tenements simply can not resist the tyranny of the plot and instead, because the verb incessantly drives its action consequentially subsume s character to a seco ndary position in the narrati ve structure. In doing so, Salome often essentialize s identity, especially Jewish identity, therefore acting as an agent (without agency) of the U.S. capitalist culture of the early part of last century. While often it 14 This date is heavily disputed. Some critics argue that the novel begins with Don Quixote in the seventeenth century. Others place the birth of the novel with authors like D efoe in the eighteenth. Still extremely c ontroversial to locate.


19 appear s that Yezierska critique s the U.S. capitalist class system, ultimately she doesn resolve her stereotypical behavior As For ster advises, Yezierska often uses In particular, many of her Jewish character types or stereotypes ( which emerged under historical conditions that pushed Jews into the role of moneylenders in a capitalist system ) spring from the narrative as villains: the miserly Jewish pawnbroker, the oppressive and abusive Jewish father, the Jewish factory owner selling out his own people for money, all of whom surface as types which stay in the mind of th e reader far afte perpetuation of notions of stereotypical Jewish identity by a Jewish author reinforce s the domina Jewishness wh ile at the same time encourages divisions within the Jewish communi ty itself.


20 Salome of the Tenements and I ts Collusion w ith the American Dream Master Narrative From her short stories to her many novels, Anzia Yezierska continually tells the same burning story as her characters struggle to try to reconcile their desire for the Amer ican Dream while maintaining their Jewish identity Her various characters are also the same : a strong willed woman as the central character, a generally benevolent but misguided white male, and a surrounding cast of various J ewish char acters and caricatures many of whom overlap different texts In Salome of the Tenements the particularly headstrong central character, Sonya Vrunsky, struggles to be faith ful to her Jewish heritage as she rises out of the oppressive ghetto. However, as other fiction, Sonya is only able to succeed because of her inherent difference from her Jewish brethren. Sonya is an individual whose very individuality propels her to rise above the ghetto from which she has emerged. Sonya revels in her o me is my strength. I alone will yet beat the in her own strength and her own will allows her to differentiate herself from her Jewish compatriots and Jewish heritage. Throughout the novel, Sonya proclaims her very difference and relishes when others recognize the uniqueness in her. When her upper class white mean it? Something you see i (2). This recognition of distinction then drives the plot forward, as Sonya, from this moment begins to act in many ways very


21 opposite to her Jewish heritage. Her haughty ar istocratic act allows her to acquire a Fi fth Avenue dress, an apartment renovation and even $100 fro m the notoriously tight fisted pawnshop owner on nothing else but her promises Her different. I got to be wh (166). Therefore, Salome begins immediately proclaiming Sonya as the heroic center of the novel for the very reason that she refuses to identify with any one group, lower class Jews or uppe r class whites, essentially portrayed in the novel as the polar opposites of passion and reason. Her ve r y difference is further emphasized in her identification as artist As her designer friend Jacques Hollins (born Jaky Solomon) explains, trying to ju The ability to move fluidly through the class system, regardless of race and gender, marks the very foundation of the plot of Salome of the Tenements This concept of the unique i ndividual can only exist if one defines the self as a complete and knowable entity, which Salome proclaims throughout (Lacan 2) The concept of the self as a unique individual rewards the subject with a fictional sense of power and agency. Therefore, the desire to see the self as complete and knowable is almost irresistible, especially in the capitalist system which incessantly pe rpetuates this founding myth. Hence Sonya struggle to view herself in this light is hardly surprising. After her marriage to Manning has ended, she is able to discover her true self and can recognize detail of her life (196). Sonya self in her past and sees how that self connects to her present self. She is then able to


22 sum up her life in a single paragraph: push up up aff in her own concept of self (Barthes 77 see former reference to this quote earlier in paper ). As Barthes argues the novelist does with his use of the preterite, Sonya argues she can do with her own attempt to possess the past. In her recognition of the mistakes she has past, Sonya affirms the teleology of h istory and the continuity of the self made (wo)man towards progress and continuity. the teleology of the self (a self growing to matu rity) only works to reinforce the American Dream ideology. After a long struggle with her self Sonya reconstructs the idea of her self as a unified whole she was s till left She had to go on with what was left of her italics mine ). The im plication here is that Sonya has constructed her identity out of a we b of ambitions only finally able to p ick herself up from her failings with the new awareness of who she is, a narrated I accessible but her future is as well. In this regard, the time T he spatial nature of the mirror stage is replaced by the temporal stage that After Sonya and Hollins marry towards the end of the book and her ex husband John Manning is about to appear at their d oor, the two newlyweds sense his coming: impending throbbed through their self consciousness. Something which they both knew


23 doorbell can be heard and their self The of the novel by her own burning desire to rise, she has been in fact Holl indication otherwise. In fact, Hollins shows keen awareness of Sonya throughout the novel, waiting patiently for her to endure her disillusionment process and return to h im after her marriage with John Manning collapses In her study of the performativity in Salome Catherine Rottenberg connects The social subject of American liberal democracy has always been conceived of agency, for he/she is presented as having the opportunity and ability to climb withi n the class hierarchy. (56) Therefore, the rhetoric of the American Dream proclaims that those who want, can. By emphasizing the unique individual, the discourse of the American Dream proclaims those individuals as agents of their own destiny, able to move through the class structure with their own will and determination. Salome only reinforces this kind of di scourse as allows her to ascend and descend fluidly wit hin the class structure not only through marriage but th rough her own work as a designer. As the American Dream proclaims, the individual is responsible for his/her own place in the


24 individual will and determination to do so. But this ki nd of agency is, of course, an illusion, a care fully constructed mirage that places the onus of poverty on the oppressed themselves who then remain oppressed if they, too, but into the American Dream myth Because Salome only reinforces the percei ved fluidity of the class structure, the novel Therefore, had set out to achieve. She had m ade herself Mrs. Manning. And what had she gotten out of her quest? Nothing nothing realized the myth of the American D ream (197). However, in the next narrative sequence middle class, ultimately reinforcing the notion of the American Dream as real and the Driven by the actions of the plot, Sonya is unable to rest and reflect; instead, she must move as the plot propels her towards so called success. However, Salome often does give hints of the fact that its characters lack agency. desire is given agency over her own passive self : proclaims one sho Desire here, ability to see more clearly than Sonya Often, as Rottenberg claims, Sonya performs the l suggests that what we perceive as our agency is really only our acting out of an


25 internalized ideological position 15 At one moment, Sonya even questions her own incessant Confused by her own driving desire she nears true understanding only to bury her ow n question. Later, that force reappears In both these instances her desire is given agency over her self, ultimately signifying an inherent lack of agency in the capitalist system as a whole One is carried along in spite of oneself. Agency is a fiction of the unified self; without a unified self, there can be no fictional agency. Sonya must bury the thoughts conversely to the multiplicity of the self (197). Otherwise, t he agency that has been promised her by the capitalist system threatens to dissolve also into nothingness. Even after she re nounces her desire to marry John Manning and bec ome her so marriage to Ja cques Hollins undermines that ver y pr oclamation of agency. The relationship between Sonya and Jacques may at first seem rt as she makes before their reunification i n order to meet Hollins again on equal terms (215) However, as she constructs the masterpiece It is logical to imagine that Sonya would be influenced by such an established and well trained designer, but the 15 According to Louis Althusser, this internalized ideological position is most strongly reinforced through However, the school, for Althusser, only functions as the most effective form of utside to ideology (175) and ideology forever do minant ideology through such early construc ts as the family and school especially as those constructs hail our own individual agency


26 dress, but Hollins does. Even as the novel positions Sonya in the guise of a New Woman, successful on her own merit it immediately under claim o f individual agency. As the character of Sonya struggles to determine her own destiny, the novel as a whole struggles to come to terms with the self as a multiple bei ng. Therefore, Sonya is continuously performing the actions of those around her. In st ripping its main characters of agency, the novel as a whole reinforces the lack of agency of subjects in a capitalist system even while that system emphasizes the plot of the American Dream so forcefully. As Salome subtly reveals, the Subject is a locus for the expression of various agencies. When Hollins, the designer/artist, is fitting Sonya for the dress which will help Sonya submits to his control: guard. But their relationship of mutuality, he as the artist and she the subject he, the giver; she, the receiver and mirrors the lack of agency of chara cters in a novel in general. triangulation of artist/man/capitalism that motivate s Sonya reveals not only culture. As the artist paints his subject in the nude and men control their wives/ daughters through marriage, capitalism transforms the woman into a consumer (among other things) Furthermore, t he novelist controls the characters as Hollins, Manning, and the Amer ican Dream all control Sonya. Sonya becomes Lu


27 Towards the end of the novel, Sonya seems to make a real attempt at agency ; however, the dynamic present in her attempt reveals that she cannot escape the discourse of assimilation and Yezierska metatextually reveals the impossibili ty of any real agency in her own art As Sonya assembles her dress/masterpiece at the end, tran sforming herself into an artist She looked at the oth er samples and realized that she must keep within the applied her mind to the problem and found that the worst atrocity of the prevailing mode was the excessive surface of the shining braid. She resolved it by cutting the braid in half widths and inserting it edgewise between soft folds, running it along under surfaces, so that a bare thread of it appeared, lending richness to the shadowed parts of the dress (216 17). I n Sony a into the prevailing fashion, the reader can see a metaphor for assimilation and for the structure of the novel as a whole Sonya, with her characteristic sophisticated flair, transforms a gaudy, lower class decorative trim into something soft beneath the surface, understated elegance. Instead of Sonya the immigrant (and Yezierska, the author) marking her influence on the dominant culture, she becomes an agent of assimilation for the Lower East Side Jewish community. Racial and cla ss influence only moves one way: downward. mades of Grand S treet bringing the upper clas s aesthetic to the poor of the Lower East S ide (228) Sonya, th en, shows no real agency; rather she becomes an agent of the dominant capitalist ideology of assimilation. While the novel tries to struggle against the romance of the rags to riche s myth in many


28 ways, it only succeeds in doing service to a more subtle cl ass movement narrative, a respectable but not too ambitious rise in class. Salome marry into the upper class, aristocratic white world by suggesting an unbridgeable gap between the two worlds and instead rewards her for a more tempered move to the upper middle class Jewish world. well bred veneer shatters, the novel suggests that the goal for the immigrant should not be a drastic rise to the upper class but rather a more restrained movement to the upper middle class. original class movement threatens it. el also becomes a of the c apitalist hegemony an ideology which prefaces the self (and the other) as a knowable entity through its emphasis on plot We saw this to temper Lower East Side fashion by infusing it with upper class novel also attempts to bring acclaim and sophistication to the Jewish community through its sale. Therefore in order to sell her novel (216). The reader can recognize that prevailing fashion in the narrative of upward mobility that structures her novel The rising action which lasts practically the entire nove l, is driven by verbs of action; tences (22) and the suspense of the plot forcefully drives the narrative ever forward, incessantly repeating the eternal quest for The American Dream of movement, of struggle, fr ame the narrative in a way that


29 desire (85). The novel disguises Sonya as central when, in actuality, the mo ve ment of the plot is central. time, failing to realize the plot working beneath her character to reinforce our notions of the American Dream myth. unceasing desire very much mirrors our own relentless desi re to know who she truly is inside As Lacan theorizes, once the subject emerges from the mirror stage, his or her entire existence is of the other (5). Therefore, the aggressive motion /action of plot mirrors our ow But whereas, the Salome th rough the workings of the tyrannica l plot The tightly woven plot, the gradual build up of suspense, the satisfying final moments when we discover all ly helping to release our Lacan 6). Almost like the climactic moment of orgasm, the reader finally feels the satisfaction of after its very long pursuit. However, in Salome s o metimes the plot moves too quick ly, so quickly that characters are not developed enough to plausibly do the things that they do hence disrupting our fictional journey to capture quintessentially crooked pawnshop dealer who enjoys measuring the power he has over his victims, sudd enly becomes a sympathetic ear remembers his own youthful dream. As he sarcastically questions her arrogant demand for $100 on the promise of interest after her presumed marr iage to John Manning, Sonya


30 replies characteristic response would be to laugh derisively but a sudd en transformation overwhelms him : Ripples in the dark pool of memory began to break through the hard surface of his being. he kept repeating. Dim voices, vague shapes, echoes long forgotten began to stir within him. Ach! Ages and ages ago, there had been a time long buried in his youth when hopes and dreams were more solid than dollars (78) sudden tr ansformation is explained as a vague remembrance of a traumatic event in his youth when his dreams of becoming a singer were shattered. This kind of n arrative recall vice which makes the novel feel more real and complete. Yet, because novel moves so quickly in the present, she has little time to interweave the past and present. Therefore, directly after Abe has decided to give her the money, he is transfo rmed just as quickly back into the miserly pawnbroker, charging her five times the interest in two weeks time. The memory which the narrati ve proclaims has had such power, has been merely a tric k to propel the plot forward, a device without which the in flexible Abe could not have been persuaded to lend Sonya the money. But alas, the speed of the narrative moves too Dream, the narrative mimics her brisk speed. Salome ultimately sacrifices character for plot for the verb, for suspense and action just as the c apitalist American Dream instructs the immigrant to sacrifice relationships and class solidarity for upward mobility.


31 Many critics have recognized the lack of nuanced fiction. Rottenberg suggests that the poor Jewish characters such as Gittel and Lipkin lack individuation (66). In her introduction to The Open Cage Alice Kessler Harris wr archetypes the popular periodicals at the time, also acknowledges the stereotypical nature of many of er, that Yezierska attributes the negative traits of the Jews in her fiction not to an y inherent racial characteristic s as many of the popular pe riodicals at the time suggested but to n product to which ). blame for stereotypes on U.S. capitalism, not Jews themselve s. However, Salome never suggests that American capitalism is to blame for Honest Honest Abe only becomes a villain after falling victim to the class injustice of another country, Poland. Abe, a one time vi rtuoso singer, after seeking a doctor to operate on his throat must resort to going to a charity hospital in Poland: operation was performed by inexperienced students, who cut up the poor for nothing to learn how to op erate on the rich ) The power of so called charity to destroy is made literal here. We can draw the para llel to charity in the U.S. whose scientific social experiments managed to benefit the rich, bu t not American. The implication is that the characteristics ass igned to Jews are inherent, or at least predate their emigration to the U.S. The stereotypical characteristics assigned to


32 Jews in Salome result from a lack of development of the characters since the plot is so central. Failing to place the blame on U.S. capitalism, Salome instead blames the Jews who have risen into the positions of managers and landlords for the plight of the poor Jew e notion of the So called Jewish greed is att ributed not to the class sy s tem, but to a lust for money which characterizes the Jew ish character in the n ew w orld and the o ld. In fact, Yezierska very often a scribes greed directly and necessarily to Jewishness. When Sonya meets Hollins, th e narrator clarifies the source of this stereotypical greed Jew in him measured her. The rapacious greed of his race for money and power leaped up in his dark d into U.S. society, cannot wash himself of his heritage and instantaneously transforms into the J ewish money hungry stereotype. His measurin g of Sonya, however, mirror measuring of him as a money hungry Jew, mirroring also the r Sonya as narrator and Jacques as n on assimilatable Jew. All four, the character s the narrator and the reader collude in a conspiracy to define the self /other as knowable. e of stereotypes that reinforce the r beliefs about Jews often mimics the notions of Jewishness that she saw plastered all over the popular media of the time. Therefore the novel both informs and is informed by the dominant ideology. As Eric Goldstein writes the attitude towards the racial status of the Jew shifted and cartoons lampooning Jews became a regular feature of humor magazines such as Puck and The Judge were portrayed in the popular periodica ls of the time in terms of their personality, their


33 business practices and their political nature. According to Ebest, Jews were presented as clannish and unable to be assimilated into the dominant U.S. culture (109). More threatening to the U.S. power s tructure words, Jews were consist ently attributed with characteristics of greed, untrustworthiness, and conspiring natures stereotypical characters. Salome and elsewhere confirm U.S. assumptions of Jewishness while at the same time encouraging a type of self loathing or self hatred in th e Jewish immigrant community, what Sander L. Gilman considers a hatred is a response to the contradictory att itude of h the presence of the powerless (2). Jews perhaps I am truly different, a parody Therefore, the s truggle to both Americanize Jews and, at the same time, to isolate them in ghettos worked to not only confuse Jew s into misrecognizing themselves but also to help Yezierska to parody their own difference. Salome portrays the m iserly Jew, the animal Jew and the i ntellectual Jew his cash box


34 equally a s problematic is th s who falls in love with Sonya before she leaves the ghetto. Manning recognizes him as a those chaotic h e dominant notions of Jews as money hungry, as Bolshevik intellectuals, as clannish animals are reflected in the caricatures of Jewish identity in Salome ultimately undermining any ability for the Jewish community to unite in any meaningful way.


35 R ed Ribbon on a White Horse and the Resistance of the Self to Individuation Red Ribbon on a White Horse is probably the most under studied of nearly all of Many critics have written on Salome, Hungry Hearts and Bread Givers but very few have touched Red Ribbon 16 Even William Boelhower, who studies the genre of immigrant autobiography, chooses the short story Mostly a bout Myself (which he calls autobiographical) over it. Boelhower is not the only critic to have studied Y n as if it were autobiography. Hannah Adelman Komy claims that novel Bread Givers 17 Kevin Piper, in a study of the comparison Laughing in the Jungle Bread Givers justifies using Bread Givers as autobiography because he feels it follows the form of the bildungsroman (100). bildungsroman does more to situate Bread Givers as a novel than as an autobiography, since the term refers originally to the fictional coming of age story If Bread Givers has often been studie d as autobiographical, critics have shied away from Red Ribbon on a White Horse because it often obscures the borderline 16 The few critics who do write about Red Ribbon life events. See fo Love in the Promised Land: The Story of Anzia Yezierska and John Dewey (158 161). See also Komy 17 Red Ribbon is Bread Givers is.


36 between fact and fiction instead affirming Bread Givers As enriksen clarifies Red Ribbon meshes fact with fiction as Yezierska both omits and adds at will, utterly inventing some of her characters. However, the tenden cy of some critics to affirm Bread Givers as autobiography only works to underscore the importance and centrality of a fictional plot. In its introduction, Kessler Harris writes that Bread Givers like Red Ribbon self Bread Givers might be somewhat autobiographical, it succumbs to the same melodramatic story as Salome turning to the d emand for plot as critics of Red Ribbon turn to a demand for historical truth. In service to the plot, Bread Givers also essentializes Jewish identity, character ) father who peddles his daughters into terrible marriages so he can continue to study the Torah. Bread Givers also paints Zalmon the fishmonger husband, as a stereotypically unyielding and sexist patriarch aligning him with own father, as he orders the main character Sara back to her cruel father because place is Bread Givers like Salome of the Tenements presents the reader with stereotypical Jewish characters which confirm already suspect notions of Jewish identity at the time. Red Ribbon on t he other hand, treats its Zalmon the fishmonger with a level of autobiographical self. Zalmon becomes a sympathetic voice in the ghetto Regardless of Red inventions,


37 fiction essentialism wh ile claiming wholeheartedly that the self and the other are ultimately unknowable. Red Ribbon her official autobiography is an important Henricksen 222). In its utter disregard for historical accuracy, Red Ribbon critiques the entire Derrida declared centering motif of the autobiography, as Phil ippe Lej eune explains with his has been a proclamation of truth at its very foundation: As opposed to all forms of fiction, biography and autobiography are referential texts: exactly like scientific or historical discourse, they claim to provide verification (22). Yet if, as Derrida claims, our need for a referential in autobiography only limits affirmation of a world of signs without fault, without truth her refusal to center her autobiography on limiting notions of truth, Yezierska can freely play with the reader a fruitful game of hide and go seek This act of playfulness, of trickery, is easier for a woman autobiograph er to adopt as her work is neces sarily questioned by the very fact that she is a woman. Because


38 autobiography has been dominated by the a ain kind of (similar to Lej writes Sidonie Smith in her book Therefore, in autobiography the reader and the writer ent er into a unique kind of relationship that incl udes a type of The traditional autobiography then takes on the form of an exchange as the writer sells his life story to the reader who examines r any defects or defaults, for any sense of being ch eated. Mirroring economic exchange, th is kind of suspect relationship be tween reade r and author is disrupted in the story of a woman as Smith explains. ports the hierarchy of values that usually still conforms to Lej e ographical pact in that t he male author is able to silence the doubts of his readers by invoking the centering notions of history as much as her autobiography is fr aught with an even deeper more implausible sense of untruth. If a reader is constantly questioning the male autobiography, he/she is forever undermining Red Ribbon adm onishes: Yet, as Derrida reminds us, the concept of history is a myth (284). T here is no way for us to really say truthfully why we acted in a certain way


39 our actions at the time. The entire idea l of autobiography as historical truth that Henricksen is working from is misguided given the theory of the self and the s elf at play that post structuralism has developed. However, while Henriksen gets the last word in the book, seriously threatening to a fictionalized autobiography, Yezierska openly writes a historically untrue autobiography thus helping to undermine the validity of the autobiographical pact to begin with. If the reader forever interrogates and undermines a then Yeziersk trickster (and by trickster I quintessential player) ways slyly defeat s ut autobiography and women. In claiming her fiction as autobiography, Yezierska strip her of authority. In a se ries of metatextual references to her writing career, Yezierska critiques further the notion of truth in history and truth in the self. In her description of ester Street so realistically almost expec (51), Yezierska playfully warns readers not to believe what they see, no matter how truthful it may seem. In fact, the more realistic something seems as does Hollywood th e more it approaches fictio n Even self is tricked by the ability of Hollywood to seamlessly mimic reality. She is stunned as she enters the set and sees her native Poland: I was suddenly back in Plinsk. The past which I had struggled to suggest in my groping words was recreated here in straw and plast er. I stepped into one of the huts, touched the old battered cookstove, the benches scratched from wear, the


40 feather beds piled high, covered with an old gray shawl. I closed my eyes and could almost se e Mother spreading the red checked Sabbath tablecloth. The steaming platter of fish, the smell of fresh baked hallah, Sabbath white bread (49). No matter how much experience Y ezierska has had with the historical Poland, Hollywood ability to cop y the wor ( as Lukcs claims every novel does (77) ) fools the viewer into believing its truth, even as it continuously reveals itself as fiction. One can read Hollywood as a self referential commentary on the nature of stor ytelling. Storytelling attempts to construct such a seeming reality that the reader is forever forgetting it is enmeshed in a fictional world just as Hollywood draws o her days in Plinsk in such a way that he r senses imagine herself there. Storytellers, even ostensibly autobiographical storytellers, are always framing and structuring how they tell a story revealing how the nature of the self in auto biography is always constructed, is always a product of fict ion. Red Ribbon never really premises hi storical truth as its obviously crafted plot structure declares immediately its designed natur e, thus upsetting the structure s of the dominant form s of the typical novel and autobiography Whereas her novels follow the traditional form of rising action, climax and r elease Red Ribbon inverts that structure by beginning with the climax and graduall y releasing the reader from tension throughout the her collection of short stories, Hungry Hearts to a Hollywood studio so as to invert the movement from rags to riches


41 Instead, Red Ribbon relates disenchantment with the romance of the American Dream discourse. While initially very excited about her success, autobiographical self continua lly questions that success and recognizes early on the counterfeit na ture if I were some strange animal on Instead of be ing treated as an equal in Hollywood, the ways that she is seen. The selves as capabl e of being eq ual to elites like John Manning in Salome Not only does Yezierska reverse the traditional structure of her novels, but she also seems to switch genres as the work progresses. Beginning as a plot driven, melodramatic story of adve nt ure, like many of her novels, Red Ribbon later switches to an emphasis on character typical in a utobiographies written on the margins 18 Therefore, the plot in the beginning, as in Salome and Bread Givers moves t o o quickly for Yezierska to develop her cha racters, and she uses stereotypical characters to keep from distracting the reader fro m the events in the story. Again, she introduces the reader to a miserly, cheating pawnbroker Zaretsky whom Yezierska approaches for the car fare up to headed dwarf, grown gray with the years in the dark basement tight skinned and crooked from squeezing pennies out of despairing Yezierska then introduces the reader to her dirty father the smell of whose room made h we meet the Jewish movie director who drives his actors as if they were slaves the actors with curse stereotypes at once recall the stereotypes in her novels as Jews become physically 18


42 deformed, sme lly and viciously money driven. Yet, these caricatures disappear by the end o f the first section of Red Ribbon as the autobiographical self becomes more aware of the illusion of the American Dream: stood empty, homeless Recognizing her own marginality (and hence the marginality of those Jews she has caricatured throughout the first section) in the A merican Dream discourse of often impossib apprehends the emptiness a nd loneliness that often emerge fr om a disillus ionment with U.S. society and its means of maintaining class structure. Without a referential central storyline, Yezierska feels hom eless and alone. As Lukcs claims in relation to the novel, the gap between reality and ( 78 79) an d Yezierska recognizes in this gap an essential emptiness. ical self identify emptine ss in the gap between reality and the ideal but she also recognizes the indiv herent lack of agency as it repeatedly ape s the demands of the dominant culture. For example, William Fox, the powerful movie producer who offers Yezierska a n unbelievable, long term contract, boast s to her t hat he [the actress Mary 86). He then threatens to do the same to Yezierska, whose burgeoning sense of the reality o f Hollywood and the unreality of the American Dream refuse s to allow her to sign the contract. By re cognizing the inherent lack of agency in the capitalist system, autobiographical self can avow that writing itself has been a performanc e of t he dominant plot driven mode, a fraud akin to the Hollywood experience that necessarily does service to the capitalist ideology in its rapidly moving plot and happy ending In other words,


43 an ideological construct (Lukcs 83). Every time she had thought she was writing out her self she was really writing books in the service of the Ame rican Dream. She expresses quite succinctly her lack of authorial agency in her discussion with another writer: 6 0). Yeziersk tries to contrast this way of writing to the dominant wa y of writ ing represented by her writer friend whose time to develop the characters (60). own lack of agency has forced her to create such plot driven narratives as Salome and Bread Givers Her writer merely mimics own form, and the lack of agency she feels in writing expresses her suspicion of her collusion in the tyranny of the plot and the dominant ideology. With another metatextual reference, Yezierska illustrates the way the dominant ideology forces the writer into aping its mode. The main character remembers emphatically arguing with her writing teacher who had demanded that she follow a typical plot style of beginning, middle and end, that she perform the dominant mode. S he This important comment points to areness of the honesty in emotion and the contrived nature of fiction which uses plot as a binding force betw een the writer, the work and the reader, stripping all of real insight or agency. autobiographical self acknowledges her own complicity in the c apitalist system a system which uses her to inform its driving myth of T he American Dream A s she asks a group of girls at a


44 lecture oits the labor of have her novels merely functioned to exploit the poor but the narrative created about her own life h as threatened to further underscore the dominant id eology T he Sweatshop Cinderella myth circulates t hrough newspapers and magazines even threatening at one point to become history as one professor asks to immortalize the media created myth in unity America offers to every ambit This is particularly ironi c given that Yezierska struggled economically during the thirties notion of the American Dream illustrating the ephemeral nature of the kind of success that the professor wished to canonize. awareness of the subtleties of the American class system causes her to forcefully remove herself from the business of writing. By admitting her own complicity in autobiographical self begins to question also the notion of the individual self. Hence, she life in the stories of my In her failure to identify herself in her picture s subject inverts ror stage, (2). The image of herself in the news paper no longer flatters her ego as the image of the self in the mirror flatters the ego with a complete and unified self. Yezier s k of the ideal of the American dream in the newspaper s stories causes her to question the very no tion o f an ideal self. A Poetics


45 The cultural injunction to be a deep, produces necessary failure, for the autobiographical subject is amnesiac, incoherent, heterogeneous, interactive. In that very failure lies the fascination of subject finds him/herself on multiple stages simultaneously, called to heterogeneous recitations of identity 110) at once in competing and incomplete d iscourses, that the act of performance necessarily produces gaps and fissures in which can be seen glimpses of unde rstanding. Like her novel s main characters, the narrator of Red Ribbon also perform s but the difference lies in her growing awareness of t hat performance. At one point after she breaks with the lawyer John Morrow (another incarnation of the John Manning character 19 ) she wonders, In acknowledging her own performati vity takes the necessary first steps in acknowledging the capitalist fiction of the individual self. The denial of the capitalist expression of the individual self leads to a consciousness of the self as heteroglossic 20 incoherent and interactive. This whether the Jewish community of her birth or the quasi socialist community of the WPA the 19 This recurrence of the upper class white male character, interestingly, has been identified by critics such as Mary Dearborn as an incarnation of her love affair with philosopher John Dewey. 20 M.M. Bakhtin defines his concept of heteroglossia y While Bakhtin argues that the novel is essentially heteroglossic, I would argue that the realistic novel often tries to silence the multiple voices within the narrative. Instead of privileging the individu s a separate and complete entity, Red Ribbon explores the nature of the self as heteroglossic and multiple nation.


46 government sponsored writing project that Yezierska joins during the d epression In her close relationship to the fishmonger Zalmon Shlomoh, she begins to get a flash of insight into herself: Startled, I looked at him, and I saw myself as in a mirror. I saw my own hump of inferiority. Here was life, right here on my own b lock, in the house where I lived, and I cried for the moon. Hannah Breineh, the janitress, cursing and shrieking at the children she loved until they fled from her in hate. The old Jew, sitting on the sidewalk, discussing the cabala with his cronies, his eyes on the stars and his feet in the gutter. That moment I saw a little bit of what I was trying to understand. In all of th em I saw a part of myself. (118) In identifying with her Jewish community, she finds a little glimpse of her self a self which agency and finds agency in the collective voice These are no longer the stereotypical characters that began Red Ribbon ; they are glimpses of the self through the competing communal voices of others narrator ultimately fluidly moves in and out of identifications with those around her and their voices inform her own. T he autobiog raphical subject discovers herself in her connections to others In fact, throughout the last third of the book, Yezie in rel ation to them. In the section on the WPA Federal Writer s roject, the characters each come briefly to the forefront with little explanation or interference from the narrator. In addi tion, their appearance in the text often seems to serve no other purpose but to highlight their character s John Barnes, the alcoh olic writer who runs the Writer s


47 Project, moves in and out of the story with very little explanation as to his function in t he narrative. Some of t hese characters from the Writer s Project, however, do serve a purpose a purpose which finally destroys the capitalist impulse towards individuality. I nstead she moves towards a concept of the self as multiple, i nformed by the heterogeneous voices of her WPA community recognizes herself in Richard W right as h is performance as a writer becomes merely (196). The narrator also beholds him and knew what he was in for This connection to a black male is interesting in that Red Ribbon portrays a possible community other than the Old World ghetto. No longer concerned with constructing the opposit ion of Jew/Christian, as in Salome Yezierska portrays a world in which dichotomies lose their ab ility to oppose one another as she refuses to do service to the capitalist impulse which informs them. concept of the dialogic self, the intern al is informed by the external heteroglossic voices of the community and vice versa. Inside and outside no longer stand in opposition to one another and the concept of self becomes a multi (Bakhtin 292) autobiographical self is then able to make a strong connection with the f ailed writer, Jeremiah Kintzler, Life of Spinoza metatextually mocks the autobiographical act man As Y is absolutely impossible as complete knowledge of the self and the other is an absurd goal


48 in t he first place As the narrator tries to piece together meaning in the fragmentary text Pages and pages of such barren abstractions. Every phrase creaked with the labor at I had read. There must be a trace of the real Jeremiah somewhere. I tried to read again. But even when I came to the type written pages held together by dirty string, I could find only an occasional living passage (191) frustrate d by the le to the narrator but also by the fact that a self A fter this failed attempt at an epistemology of the self the only possible act of language is heteroglossic This comment cannot be explained by a discussion of Jewish religious discourse, nor with the discourse of the dominant ideology, and not even with the discourse of Spinoza himself. Instead, informed by all these intermingling discourses, ever emphasizing the multi plicity of language and the self. T called incompetence s lowly subsides as she comes to terms with her self as multiple. S he realizes that he there were other fragments buried in that jumble of notes, but I could n narrative coherence, so does the narrator desire some form of structure and continuity, a story.


49 However, Red Ribbon on a White Horse resists the demand for the cohesion and comfort of a center instead ultimately affirming the power of community in informing more active notions of the self. With the loss of the notion of a unified self comes the realization t threatening to envelop us (194). And the narrative which began as a structured whole, with ne atly woven plot lines, dissolve s into a series of chaotic stories with no beginning, middle or end. Therefore, the narrator of Red Ribbon finally realizes that the anxi ety of lacking direction to see herself always as an individual. At these moments of recognition, the narrative begins to form itself into some of the same mystical ranting as Jeremiah Kintzler mystical spiritual sphere of her inner achieves 46 ). And like all good mystical visions, it begins with a dream, a dream of her old self strugg ling on a directionless train, encompassing her in fear. Her solution to th is burning fear of nothingness prompts her to a search for community, the community lost to her when she left the ghetto to go to Hollywood Whereas the book begins a story o f the individual victorious in t he American Dream, it ends in the heteroglossic voices of community a nd ultimately in a n identification with the community of her b irth. Eventually Red Ribbon on a White Horse community as Lukcs sees the poetic voice as often approaching (45). In her


50 community in the very people and the very part of herself that she has reject ed so many times before. T he narrative ends with a proclamation of community, not a proclamation of self. In the aut obiographical form, Yezierska i s finally able to break free from the drive of plot, the drive of the American Dream and to focus instead on th e voices of community, the sense of community that is necessarily severed in the process of achieving the Americ an Dream.


51 Works Cited Adamic, Louis. Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in America Edinburgh: AK p ress, 2008. Print. --. Laughing in the Jungle: The Autobiography of an Immigrant in America New York: Arno Press, 1969. Print. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays Trans. Ben Brews ter. New Y ork: Mo nthly Review Press, 1971. 127 88 Print. Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice New York: Print Bakhtin, M.M. The Dialogic Imagination Trans. Carl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P 198 1. Print. Essentials of the Theory of Fiction Ed. Michael J. Hoffman and Patrick D. Murphey Durham: Duke UP 2005. 75 82. Print. Women, Autobiog raphy, Theory Ed. Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1998. 145 55. Print. American Autobiography Ed. Paul John Eakin. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1991. 123 41. Print.


52 Essentials of the Theory of Fiction Ed. Michael J. Hoffman and Patrick D. Murphey. Durham: Du ke UP, 2005. 201 20. Print. Cahan, Abraham. The Education of Abraham Cahan (Bleiter Fun Me in Leben) Trans. Leon Stein, Abraham P. Conan and Lynn Davison. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969. Print. --. The Rise of David Levinsky Illinois: The Book Jungle, 2009. Print. Dearborn, Mary V. Love in the Promised Lan d: The Story of Anzia Yezierska and John Dewey. New York: The Free Press, 1988. Print. Writing and Difference Trans. Alan Bass. London: Routledge, 1966. 27 8 94. Print. MELUS 25. 1 ( 2000):105 27. Print. Studies in American Jewish Literature 17 (1998): 137 41. Print. For Essentials of the Theory of Fiction Ed. Michael J. Hoffman and Patrick D. M urphey. Durham: Duke UP 2005. 35 42. Print. Language, Counter Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews Ed. D.F. Bouch ard. Ithaca: Cornell UP 1977. Print.


53 Friedman, Susan Stanford. irginia Reading Narrative: Form, Ethics, Ideology Ed. James Phelan. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1989. 162 85. --. Women, Autobiography, Theory Ed. Sidonie Smith and Julia W atson. Madison: The U of Wisconsin P 1998. 72 82. Print. Gilman, Sander L. Jewish Self Hatred: Anti Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP 1986. Print. g the Jew in Progressive Era Racial American Jewish History 89.4 (2001): 383 409. Print. Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical Ed. James Olney. Princeton: Princeton UP 1980. 28 48. Print. Kessler The Open Cage: An Anzia Yezierska Collection New York: Persea Books, 1979. Print. Critique of Anzia Yeziers Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 26.3 (2008): 33 47. Print. Hungary Hearts American Literature 69.3 (1997): 595 619. Print.


54 crits: A Selection Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock, 1977. 1 7. Print. Lejeune, Philippe. On Autobiography Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P 1989. Print. Lukcs, Georg. The Theory of the Novel Cambridge: MIT Press, 1971. Print. Marx, Karl. Capital Volume I London: Penguin Books, 1976. Print. Marx, Karl and Frederick En gels. The Communist Manifesto London: Verso, 1998. Print. Matz, Jesse. The Modern Novel: A Short Introduction Massachusetts : Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2004. Print. Laughi ng in the Jungle Bread Givers MELUS 35.1 (2010): 99 118. Print. Propp, Vladimir The Morphology of the Folktale Trans. Lau rence Scott. Austin: U of Texas P 1970. Print. Roediger, David. Working Toward Whiteness: How White. New York: Penguin 2005. Print. Roth, Henry. Call I t Sleep New York: Picador, 1991. Print. Rottenberg, Catherine. Performing Americanness: Race, Class and Gender in Modern African American and Jewish American Literature Hanover: Dartmouth College Press, 2008. Print.


55 Women, Autobiography, Theory Ed. Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson. Madiso n: U of Wisconsin P 1998. 108 115. Prin t. --. Bloomington: Indiana UP 1987. Print. MELUS 12.4 (1985) 37 51. Print. Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding Berkeley: U of California P 1974. Print. Yezierska, Anzia. Bread Givers New York: Persea 2003. Print. --. Red Ribbon on a White Horse New York: Persea 1987. Print. --. Salome of the Tenements New B runswick: Transaction 1999. Print.


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