Immigrant Identity in Narratives

After reading both, “The Immigrant Novel,” and “Immigrant Writing: Changing the Contours of a National Literature,” a common theme emerging in immigrant narratives revolves around the idea of identity. Often times the experiences of the immigrant are troubling and include many obstacles, but also moments of clarity and success. These rough, conflicting experiences force clashes between the original identity and with the forced new character. The result is that many immigrant narratives produce a stereotypical image of a struggling character- both internally and externally.

Although there are numerous similarities that can be drawn between immigrant narratives, such as themes of assimilation, struggle, or bildungsroman, a defining feature of many immigrants experience is the shedding of their old identity to form a new conformed and adjusted character. In “Immigrant Writing,” Mukherjee writes that immigrants and immigrant narratives often work to deliberately erase the past and form a new identity (681). This transformation of characters can result in an internal conflict where new identities are forced on an immigrant. The struggle of the internal character revolves around this idea of conflict between the old and new. The common idea is that in order to assimilate and develop a new identity, the old one must be removed. Miller also echoes in, “The Immigrant Novel,” a similar idea that in order to be included in society, there is a sort of consensual amnesia that needs to occur, including shedding of individual pasts to join a collective identity of the new nation (209). However, is it possible to maintain both identities in tandem? Can immigrants truly merge both their native and new characters together as a result of the experiences they portrayed in immigrant narratives?