Becoming Cajun, Becoming American: The Acadian in American by Maria Hebert-Leiter

By Maria Hebert-Leiter

From antebellum occasions, Louisiana's distinctive multipartite society incorporated a criminal and social area for middleman racial teams corresponding to Acadians, Creoles, and Creoles of colour. In changing into Cajun, changing into American, Maria Hebert-Leiter explores how American writers have portrayed Acadian tradition during the last one hundred fifty years. Combining a learn of Acadian literary historical past with an exam of Acadian ethnic historical past in gentle of contemporary social theories, she deals perception into the Americanization method skilled through Acadians--who through the years got here to be referred to as Cajuns--during the 19th and 20th centuries. Hebert-Leiter examines the complete heritage of the Acadian, or Cajun, in American literature, starting with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem Evangeline and the writings of George Washington Cable, together with his novel Bonaventure. The cultural complexity of Acadian and Creole identities led many writers to depend on stereotypes in Acadian characters, yet as Hebert-Leiter exhibits, the anomaly of Louisiana's category and racial divisions additionally allowed writers to handle complicated and controversial--and occasionally taboo--subjects. She emphasizes the fiction of Kate Chopin, whose brief tales include Acadian characters permitted as white americans throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Representations of the Acadian in literature replicate the Acadians' course in the direction of assimilation, as they celebrated their transformations whereas nonetheless adopting an all-American thought of self. In twentieth-century writing, Acadian figures got here to be extra known as Cajun, and more and more outsiders perceived them now not easily as unique or mythic beings yet as complicated individuals who healthy into conventional American society whereas reflecting its cultural variety. Hebert-Leiter explores this transition in Ernest Gaines's novel a meeting of outdated males and James Lee Burke's detective novels that includes Dave Robicheaux. She additionally discusses the works of Ada Jack Carver, Elma Godchaux, Shirley Ann Grau, and different writers. From Longfellow via Tim Gautreaux, Acadian and Cajun literature captures the phases of this interesting cultural dynamism, making it a pivotal a part of any heritage of yank ethnicity and of Cajun tradition specifically. Concise and available, changing into Cajun, changing into American offers a good creation to American Acadian and Cajun literature.

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Extra info for Becoming Cajun, Becoming American: The Acadian in American Literature from Longfellow to James Lee Burke (Southern Literary Studies)

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While the off-reservation boarding school was just one option, “Taking the Indians from the reservation, Pratt argued, was the only way for them to begin the three-step process toward The Irony of George Washington Cable’s Bonaventure / 41 civilization that required Indians to exchange ‘savage’ ways for ‘civilized,’ to forget their tribal ways to become individuals, and to silence their Indian voices and speak English” (121). In her discussion of Zitkala Ša’s writings on her experience both as a student in a reservation school and as a teacher at the Carlisle School, Jessica Enoch argues that such letters and essays prove the power of one’s ability to voice opposition in English, but they also demonstrate the consequences of such education.

Cooper’s fiction captures the paradox of American identity formation of the time: if Americans wanted to distinguish themselves from their European roots, then they had to establish a native identity for themselves, an identity represented simultaneously through and in opposition to American Indians and their “exotic” ­culture. 10 This dark shadow grew into a force larger than simply the opposite of white identity as the North and South continued to debate the institution of slavery. Both Simms and Longfellow address the slave along with the American Indian in their fiction, but they do so in a way that illustrates the growing divisions occurring in the nation at the time.

Such loss does not reside only among the American Indians, which Evangeline makes clear: Then at the door of Evangeline’s tent she sat and repeated Slowly, with soft, low voice, and the charm of her Indian accent, All the tale of her love, with its pleasures, and pains, and reverses. Much Evangeline wept at the tale, and to know that another Longfellow’s Evangeline: American Myth and Cajun Memory / 23 Hapless heart like her own had loved and been disappointed. ­(1129–33) The Indian maiden repeats to Evangeline the story of Mowis, “the bridegroom of the snow, who won and wedded a maiden, / But, when the morning came, arose and passed from the wigwam, / Fading and melting away and dissolving into the sunshine” (1140–42).

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