Framing Ethnicity: Storytelling in Italian American Novels
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Framing Ethnicity: Storytelling in Italian American Novels articulates the relationship between social history and formal devices deployed by Italian American writers to construct ethnicity as a revision of national identity in the post-Civil Rights era. In the context of this “ethnic narrative turn,” I present Italian American narratives as a case study for examining the degree to which storytelling constructs ethnicity in conjunction with the canonical issues of selfhood, witnessing, unreliability, and authorship. Situated between the rhetorics of narrative theory and multi-ethnic aesthetics, my dissertation employs theories of the frame and theories of ethnocritical storytelling to assert the importance of narrative structures in the analysis and discussion of ethnic novels in general and Italian American novels in particular. I argue that narrative frames and embedded texts interpret representations of oral storytelling and constructions of audience for the ethnic writer working within the contested “imagined communities” of ethnicity, region, and nation. Within this critical context, the first four chapters investigate specific types of conventional characters—the migrant storyteller, the historical witness, the incompetent narrator and the collective author—against specific types of narrative frames in novels by Helen Barolini, Carole Maso, Tina De Rosa, Octavia Waldo, Rachel Guido deVries, Dorothy Bryant, and Mario Puzo. The last two chapters address the ideological function of stories in creating an Italian American mythos. Chapter six focuses on the novelists’creation of hybrid Italian and American folklore figures in novels by Tony Ardizzone and Don DeLillo, and chapter seven examines the use of personal storytelling by critics of Italian American literature.