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Mary Neuburger, Director BUR 452, 2505 University Avenue, Stop F3600, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-3607

Spring 2009

REE 385 • Jewish American Literature

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
44810 TTh
9:30 AM-11:00 AM
GAR 2.108

Course Description

Jewish-American literature begins in immigration. Its first language was Yiddish and progressed into English as a parallel language until English became the dominant expression and the fullest sign of the completed accommodation if not assimilation into the American experience. This course traces the departure of the Eastern European Jews from a modern Pharaonic Egypt, Tsarist Russia, and the crossing of the symbolic Red Sea, the Atlantic, to the new Promised Land. The first generation however like the original Biblical escapees from bondage, endured a Sinai Desert experience, the slums and sweatshops of New York City before the final liberation of their progeny. The immigrant experience has been repeated many times in American literature but the Jews have a unique series of immigrant generations arriving in America that follow the continuous Tsarist pogroms of 1881 to 1914, the flight from the Russian Revolution and the new anti-Semitic nation-states of Post WWI, the flight of German Jews from Nazi Germany from 1933-1939, the flight of the survivors of the Holocaust, from 1945- 1965, and the most recent arrivals, the Russian Jews from communist Russia from 1980-2000. The immigration experience affects the cultural dynamics of Jewish-American literature across one hundred years. At the same time, the literature of the second and third and even fourth generation reflect their accommodations and concerns about the meaning of being Jewish-Americans and the fusion of older cultural baggage with the new. The Jewish-American experience has been a colorful and significant expression of joining the commonwealth and yet retaining memories that affect Jewidsh-American modes of participation in the American polity and culture that has often been well received and reciprocal. In this course, we shall follow more or less chronologically the various key figures of each generation of Jewish-American writers of prose who have left their mark upon the community and the broad national culture. We shall be reading selected texts of the first generation by: Sholom Aleichem, Mottel, the Cantor's Son Sholem Asch, East River Abraham Cahan, The Rise of David Levinsky. Yezierka, Breadwinners. The period of the Post WWI period to WWII brought forth a new crop of writers dealing with the continued adjustment to Americanization. We shall read one text by from the Williamsburg Trilogy (Fuchs) and perhaps some chapters from Henry Roths Call It Sleep. The Post-World War II era brought a true flourishing of Jewish-American novels and this embarrassment of riches will permit a selection from Malamud Stories, Saul Bellow, Seize the Day Leslie Epstein, Leah Wallace Markfield, To an Early Grave Philip Roths Sabbaths Theater Stories by Grace Paley and Cynthia Ozick The last part of the course will treat contemporary Jewish-American Writing from the fourth generation of Eastern European Jews and the newly emergent Russian Jewish immigrant literature in English.

Grading Policy

1. One class presentation 30% 2. Midterm 30% 3. Final Exam/ Paper 30% 4. Class participation 10%

This course provides an opportunity to compare the Jewish-American experience to other American ethnic groups whose parallel experiences expose the commonalities of the accommodations and differences that provide the rich quilt of the broad American experience to which all are linked. The texts are chosen for their high esthetic values and focus both on the individual and the community within the larger context of the American inheritance.


Nathan Englander, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges Laura Vaypnyar, Memoirs of a Muse David Bezmozgis, Natasha and other Stories


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