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In Search of Identity and Spirituality in the Fiction of American Jewish Female Authors at the Turn of the 21st Century

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Dorota Mihulka

The book discusses the issue of religiosity in the context of American Jewish literature, emphasizing the significance of Judaism as an indispensable element in the formation of American Jewish female identity. The empirical part of the book is devoted to a critical comprehensive analysis of selected fiction by contemporary American Jewish female writers, representatives of the third generation, whose works were published between 1980–2005. The literary analyses of the selected narratives reveal a strong connection between the identity of American Jewish women and Judaism, and the simultaneous need to modify it in the face of socio-political transformations occurring in the American society at the turn of the twenty-first century

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Introduction

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The twentieth century is believed to have been the time when philosophers, artists, and writers were preoccupied with the issue of identity. However, we could argue that Jews, living as marginal, separate people throughout most of their Diasporic history, have always been obsessed with the question of personal and collective identity. Identity has been an especially vital and contentious issue for American Jews whose life has been marked by the interaction with Gentiles since the beginning of their settlement on the American continent. In general, Jews raised within the Jewish tradition in the Old World were forced to challenge, evaluate, and confirm their ethnic/religious identities, their links to the Jewish past, as well as their connections to American culture after emigrating to America. On the other hand, secular Jews or those with only nominal Jewish upbringing seemed to have more freedom in forging their identities in heterogeneous America, feeling unencumbered by their religious beliefs.

The post-war period, in particular, the 1960s and 1970s with the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement, the second wave of feminism, and multiculturalism contributed significantly to the development of the general interest in identity, ethnic pride and alternative lifestyles. The United States is undoubtedly the finest example of a multicultural society in which racial, religious and ethnic boundaries seem to be blurred as a consequence of the constant contact, interdependence and confrontation between one’s native culture and foreign culture. The search for identity by people living on the borderland between ‘two...

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