Speaking from a Strange Place: Refiguring Contemporary Bodies of Jewish American Women's Assimilation

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Jewish American assimilation in the United States is considered a finished, and successful, project. This narrative of successful assimilation is used as a foundational example of enculturation in the United States in numerous bodies of study, including whiteness studies, cultural studies, and Jewish studies. The usage of Jewish American male experience as the basis of this narrative creates the notion that Jewish American women achieved assimilation through their male counterparts. Though this metonymic usage of male experience for all Jewish American experience has largely gone uncontested in scholarship, a plethora of Jewish American women's writing has emerged contemporarily in which this centering of Jewish male experience is being questioned. In these texts--visual and written--ghostly and strange happenings suggest that for some Jewish American women assimilation may be an ongoing project and that new tools of understanding are necessary to understand their stories, so different from the already sedimented male narratives of the Jewish American assimilation story. In this project, memoir (Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel), fiction (Empathy by Sarah Schulman), and television drama (The L Word by Ilene Chaiken) created by Jewish American women writers is examined in order to re-imagine narratives of Jewish American assimilation. With the use of theory from a variety of bodies of study as well as Jewish American women's fiction produced before and after World War II, Jewish American assimilation is illuminated as an ongoing project in which some Jewish American women inhabit the identity of strangers. The strangers encountered here illuminate not only the failings of assimilation, and its attendant narratives, but also resistances to assimilation and its violence's. Further, the encounter with strange characters in the process of assimilating created by Jewish American women imagined to be successfully "Americanized," provides insight into the necessary tools of discipline and normalization in the construction of citizenship and belonging in the United States.