Americanization and the Immigrant Novel, Redux: Abraham Cahan’s "The Rise of David Levinsky"

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Cristina Stanciu

Abstract

In this essay I turn to Abraham Cahan’s The Rise of David Levinsky (1917), one of the most popular immigrant novels ever written. I argue that, like other immigrant writers of his generation, Cahan challenged the optimistic version of Americanization of the Progressive Era. First, I examine the context surrounding the publication of the novel, and argue that it stages Cahan’s response to nativism and anti-Semitism, pervasive in print culture at the turn of the century. Then I explore David Levinsky’s fashioning of his Americanized persona; Levinsky’s determination to Americanize leads to a series of unfulfilled, deferred dreams. By performing his desired new identity (to become a “true American”), and by repressing other forms of identification, Cahan’s character opens up a line of critique of Progressive Era constructions of race and ethnicity. I end with a discussion of the immigrant novel as a legitimate genre in 1917 and beyond.

Article Details

How to Cite
Stanciu, C. “Americanization and the Immigrant Novel, Redux: Abraham Cahan’s ‘The Rise of David Levinsky’”. Linguaculture, vol. 12, no. 1, June 2021, pp. 13-33, doi:10.47743/lincu-2021-1-0184.
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Articles
Author Biography

Cristina Stanciu, Virginia Commonwealth University, U.S.A.

CRISTINA STANCIU, Ph.D, is an associate professor of English and Director of the Humanities Research Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is co-editor of Laura Cornelius Kellogg: “Our Democracy and the American Indian” and Other Writings (2015) and of the MELUS journal special issue, “Pedagogy in Anxious Times” (2017). Her work has appeared in journals such as American Indian Quarterly, Studies in American Indian Literatures, Multiethnic Literatures of the United States, Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, College English, and others. Her recent awards include: a Fulbright Scholar Award (2019-2020), an Obama Institute Fellowship (Germany), an NEH summer stipend, and an AAUW post-doctoral fellowship. She currently serves as book review editor of the journal MELUS. Her book from which this article is derived is forthcoming from Yale University Press.

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