Passing on the melting pot : resistance to Americanization in the work of Gertrude Stein, Alice Corbin Henderson and William Carlos Williams
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This dissertation examines Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives, several works by Alice Corbin Henderson, and Williams Carlos Williams’s Man Orchid (a collaboration with Lydia Carlin and Fred Miller) in the context of the rhetoric of the melting pot, the Immigration Act of 1924, the de facto segregation of the Southwest, eugenics debates, expatriate sentiment and miscegenation laws. By 1940, Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” (1939) and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” (1940) play out competing populist versions of Americanism, each an assertion of the American nation’s “true” spirit. While each of these U.S. writers works under a passionately nationalist impetus, it is one that asserts what they think “America” should be as opposed to what is being imposed under the onus of the U.S. nation-state. At the same time, they utilize the sentiment attached to what is termed “American” to resist Americanization. Ultimately, “Passing on the Melting Pot” finds that the varied ways in which Stein, Henderson, and Williams resist official American narratives are concomitant with the early twentieth-century U.S. nation’s preoccupations with passing, interracialism, primitivism, and biological determinism that still persist in vii contemporary American nationality. While this dissertation does not insist upon a postcolonial praxis throughout, the chapters, contemporary postcolonial criticism informs this project’s examination of Stein’s, Henderson’s and Williams’s deployment of racial ventriloquism to explore a particularly American anxiety over racial difference in variant ways at different sociohistorical moments. The chapters “‘Niggers and Servant Girls and the Foreign Population Generally,’” “‘The Idea of the Indian,’” and “‘The Best Spirit of the New World’” traverse the lines between role-playing, mimicry, and desire in the texts examined, and examine just what historically is at stake along those lines in terms of subjectivity and nation formation.