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Chapter 1 Is There Really Such a Thing as Deaf American Literature? ! IN HIGH school and college, we learn how to analyze fiction: we chart a work’s plot, ponder its theme or themes, dissect character motivation, and hold a magnifying glass to the author’s use of language , symbolism, and imagery. Having seen to the basics, we then go on to genre considerations and note how our narrative is like or unlike the typical short story or novel. Next, we set our narrative alongside the author’s entire oeuvre to see if it is another chip—or not—off the old block. From there we move to the author’s historical and cultural milieu and compare the author’s writing with that of his or her contemporaries. We bear in mind the general philosophical outlook at the time—rationalism, romanticism, classicism, modernism, or postmodernism—and how our short story or novel figures in the whole cultural matrix. In these days of heightened ethnic and gender awareness and empowerment, we may wish to speculate on the writer’s possible allegiances and prejudices. If our narrative is by an American writer, we come up against the broader question of what American literature is and how we 1 975 Gup DAL Chap 01 7/17/00 7:41 PM Page 1 should discuss it as a whole. What in a novel by, for instance, Ernest Hemingway or Edith Wharton leads us to pronounce it an “American ” novel? How is American literature differentiated from European literatures—particularly British literature, from which it derives and within which it is often subsumed? Witness the large number of American college and university students past and present majoring in English and studying the masters: Chaucer, Shakespeare , Milton, and so on. In what ways is American literature similar to the (former) mother literature and in what ways has it evolved away from its parent? What useful approaches might these admittedly debatable distinctions offer as we examine our “American ” novel or short story? As we look a little more closely, we may find that our short story or novel is by an African American writer or a Hispanic writer. American literature is a smorgasbord that includes Native American literature, African American literature, Chinese American literature, and Hispanic literature. Such smaller literatures are also “American ” but have features that distinguish them from literature considered mainstream. Thus any analysis of such work should explore how the ethnic writer has borrowed from both the ethnic rhetorical tradition and the canonical literary tradition, and in the process merged the two. We must endeavor to look to the ethnic culture itself for our approach to a particular ethnic—and hybrid—body of works. Our short story or novel may be even further removed from the mainstream: it may be by a Deaf American. This brings us to the question of what Deaf American literature—or “deaf lit,” as it is colloquially termed—is, and what steps should be followed in analyzing it or discussing it. We need to keep in mind that Deaf Americans are, like the American colonists, a smaller group descended from a larger group; like Native Americans and other contemporary minority groups, they also are a smaller group within a larger group. And just as American writing is both British and American, and Native American literature is both “Indian” and American, so Deaf American discourse is both American and “Deaf.” We can compare it to mainstream American literature as well as to other American minority literatures by examining, for example, how a 2 Deaf American Literature 975 Gup DAL Chap 01 7/17/00 7:41 PM Page 2 Deaf American short story is both like and unlike a “typical” American short story. In fact, critics have paid relatively little attention to the unique language and discourse (including “literature”) of Deaf Americans as a whole. One reason is the widely held misconception that limits deaf lit to what is on paper: that is, the poetry, stories, and plays that reflect the biculturality of Deaf Americans. Most have been instructed in English and English literature as a part of twelve or more years of schooling, and many young Deaf Americans dream of writing and publishing stories and poems in English—whether or not they are proficient in English and even though they are very fluent in their native language, American Sign Language (ASL). Thus, the local school library may boast rows of novels, plays, and poetry by Deaf American writers in English...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781563681738
Related ISBN
9781563680946
MARC Record
OCLC
57351806
Pages
232
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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