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Canadian Review of American Studies/ RnJtwcanadw1111e d'etudesamerica111es Volume 27, Number 3, 1997, pp. 215-236 Trademark or Metaphor?: Two Case Studies of "Mixblood" Writing in the United States Today J.K. Donaldson Mixblood writers who do not want to be consumed by the power have to remember why they tell stories-and a large part of that "why" has to be connection, bridging the gap that is part of their very existence, not ego.... They must be the metaphor that they are. (W. S. Penn 1995, 158) 215 The years 1994 and 1995 saw the appearance of two works which have the capacity to heighten consciousness among mainstream readers concerning the alienation of racially and ethnically mixed populations in the United States. What is more, and what sets these works apart from many of their predecessors , is that both of them-without being naively optimistic or uncritically sentimental-allow glimpses of possible reconciliation for diverse social elements. Both suggest, however indirectly and tentatively, potential syntheses of the healthier and more honourable characteristics in different groups, mainstream and minority, to form a more vital, because more inclusive, sense of American national identity. Superficially, these works differ considerably. One of them, W.S. Penn's All My Sins Are Relatives (1995), is (largely) nonfiction, while the other, 2.16 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canadzenne d' etudes americaines Kiana Davenport's Shark Dialogues (1994), is a novel. Penn writes of his combined Nez Perce, Osage, and Anglo heritage, while Davenport incorporates elements reflecting her Native-Hawaiian and Anglo-American background . Yet, in addition to their focus on issues of multiracialism and multiculturalism , they have strong commonalities, and, because of this, a careful ' reading of each can shed light on the other. Both authors experiment with literary form as a way of reinforcing, indeed expressing, essential, but otherwise ineffable, views. Both manipulate representations of time, place, and event to suggest alternative, non-European ways of envisaging reality. Moreover, both use characterization in such a way as to suggest substitute modes for the individual's relationship to society. Implicitly, both call upon white America to include the members of smaller, equally wronged minorities in the national concern it has, on occasion, shown for black Americans. All My SinsAre Relativesis hard to categorize completely and accurately; 1tis in part literary history and criticism-an abbreviated study of "mixblood writing" (to use Penn's term) in the United States, combined with a kind of arspoetica for such writing. It is, to a certain extent, a compendium of some of the most incisive observations made by Native-American writers and thinkers (major figures such as Gerald Vizenor) about what it means to be both, both Native American and a writer in a white-dominated society. For all those reasons, it furnishes a convenient starting point in the examination of these two works, offering, as it does, standards, models, basic principles for evaluating literature which grows out of culture contact and racial mixing within a single nation or society. Penn's idea for use of a literary character who is racially mixed to personify individual and social problems stemming from culture contact is not new. Neither is his view that the racially or culturally mixed writer may be able to develop insights into these problems-out of his or her personal experience -insights that would be more difficult for the mainstream author to attain. Writers have used both detribalized natives and the offspring of mixed European and indigenous parentage to personify problems arising out of contact of cultures in colonial and former-colonial societies for almost as long as there have been such societies. Similarly, the deracine and the metis are subjects of study by anthropologists, sociologists, social psychologists, and ].K. Donaldson/ 217 even political scientists who want to investigate the variety of societal and individual responses to situations of prolonged contact by different races and cultures. Additionally, individuals who fall into one or another of these categories (deracineor metis, or both) have used themselves in numerous autobiographies to explore questions of conflicting values and conflicted personalities in multiracial, multiethnic societies. What is original about Penn is that My SinsAreRelativescombines all three of these emphases. In...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 215-236
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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