By Maria Hebert-Leiter
From antebellum occasions, Louisiana's precise multipartite society incorporated a criminal and social house for middleman racial teams corresponding to Acadians, Creoles, and Creoles of colour. In turning 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 heritage with an exam of Acadian ethnic historical past in mild of contemporary social theories, she deals perception into the Americanization technique skilled through Acadians--who over the years got here to be often called 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 indicates, the paradox of Louisiana's classification and racial divisions additionally allowed writers to handle advanced and controversial--and occasionally taboo--subjects. She emphasizes the fiction of Kate Chopin, whose brief tales include Acadian characters permitted as white americans in the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Representations of the Acadian in literature replicate the Acadians' direction in the direction of assimilation, as they celebrated their modifications whereas nonetheless adopting an all-American proposal of self. In twentieth-century writing, Acadian figures got here to be extra referred to as Cajun, and more and more outsiders perceived them no longer easily as unique or mythic beings yet as complicated individuals who healthy into conventional American society whereas reflecting its cultural range. Hebert-Leiter explores this transition in Ernest Gaines's novel a meeting of outdated males and James Lee Burke's detective novels that includes Dave Robicheaux.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 levels of this attention-grabbing 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, turning into American offers a great advent 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)
Longfellow’s Evangeline: American Myth and Cajun Memory / 19 Longfellow’s Acadian characters reflect an American movement at the time for authors to use histories that were not their own to assimilate Others into American literary and cultural frameworks by incorporating them into a New World mythology that distinguished itself from the Old World. This movement reflects Benedict Anderson’s argument in Imagined Communities that “from the start the nation was conceived in language, not in blood, and that one could be ‘invited into’ the imagined community” (145), which for Acadian folklore in the United States meant a baptism into American literature through the English language.
We have, or shall have, a composite one, embracing French, Spanish, Irish, English, Scotch, and German peculiarities. Whoever has within himself most of these is our truly national writer. In other words, whoever is the most universal is also most national. (S. Longfellow, vol. 2, 73–74) With the publication of Evangeline, Longfellow evolved into his ideal of a national writer. 4 Although Evangeline combines various literary techniques already established by European tradition, such as its meter,5 it also rewrites the history of a particular ethnic group in typological and allegorical terms in order to claim a folktale for the nation at large.
Conolly, the minister who told Longfellow the tale of divided Acadian lovers, confined his version within New England boundaries, but, as John Seelye notes, Longfellow “extend[ed] Evangeline’s wanderings to include the geographical limits [in 1846] of the United States” (39). Longfellow’s use of the United States’ geographical expanse echoes journalist John L. O’ Sullivan’s Young American promotion of “Manifest Destiny,” a belief in America’s God-given duty to settle the West. iii of Evangeline, Basil, the Acadian blacksmith and father of Gabriel, speaks of Louisiana in terms of expansion: “Here, too, numberless herds run wild and unclaimed in the prairies; / Here, too, lands may be had for the asking, and forests of timber” (993–94).