American innocence: Maintaining the myth and reproducing the other in contemporary American literature
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The newness of the American experience in a New World, without the burden of history, was consolidated as a popular, official discourse of national identity in the nineteenth century, one focused on American innocence and exceptionalism. However, this ideal vision of the nation could only be created by erasing the Native American presence and downplaying frontier violence, slavery, and American imperialism. The literary myths of American innocence and exceptionalism are continuously reproduced and willfully persist in present-day America through such acts of exclusion and dehistoricization effacing conflicting historical and social realities and the exploited and excluded Other. By reading contemporary American novels, including Philip Roth’s American Pastoral (1997), Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis (2003), Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (2005), and a non-fiction book, Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun (2009), I examine the vision of America and its ideals that each protagonist narrates. I analyze the peculiar cycle of losing, regaining, and consolidating America’s innocence through American innocence: its ignorance of its own contesting realities. By examining culturally idealized spaces such as a pastoral suburb, an international border, a cosmopolis, and America as a land for immigrants, this dissertation illustrates how each presents the national myth, discloses erased realities and people under ideological national ideals, and displays the myth’s own limits, contradictions, and overlooked internal critiques.