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8 - Native American Literature in the 1930s

from Part II - Assimilation and Modernity (1879–1967)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 September 2020

Melanie Benson Taylor
Dartmouth College, New Hampshire
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Modernity is often defined as the category that by definition excludes Indigenous people. We could say the same for the modernism, the cultural movement that came into being precisely as a modality of reimaging the future. This essay explores how reimagining Native Americans was not only central for writers during what Michael Denning refers to as the "third wave of modernism" from the late 1920s to the Cold War, but also how Native American modernists imagined themselves within the new emergent forms of modernity. Modernist Native American writers John Joseph Mathews’ and D'Arcy McNickle's touchstone novels, Sundown and The Surrounded, deployed many of the generic tropes of modernism: alienation, hybrid forms, ambiguity, and unreliable narration to express an ambivalence about an emergent modernity. Rather than read the Indigenous as "outside" of modernity, Mathews and McNickle serve to remind us of how Native American modernists complexly engaged with the emergent possibilities of modernist futuricity.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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