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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

14. Becoming Visible

•  Unit Overview
- Instructor
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- Glossary
- Learning
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Unit Overview: Glossary

assimilation  Becoming part of the dominant culture and leaving behind characteristics and qualities that would designate one as different or "other."

bildungsroman  A novel of formation or growth into maturity; a novel of education and an awakening from the innocence of youth.

Cold War  A period following World War II up to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when communist and democratic countries vied for political control of and influence in the world. The period was marked by a nuclear arms race that guaranteed "mutual annihilation" if either side used its weapons of mass destruction.

conformity  Going along with the popular beliefs, trends, and attitudes of the dominant society of the time.

existentialist writing  Literature that embraces the view that the individual must create his or her own meaning in an unknowable, chaotic, and seemingly empty universe. French author Albert Camus proposes that in such a world, one may decide either that all efforts are futile or that the mere struggle to continue in such an absurd universe is an act of creation in itself.

improvisation  The act or art of composing and rendering music or poetry extemporaneously, in a unique or individual manner.

jazz  Music in which improvisation and soloing play an important part. There is tremendous variety in jazz, but most jazz is very rhythmic, has a forward momentum called "swing," and uses "bent" or "blue" notes. You can often hear "call-and-response" patterns in jazz, in which one instrument, voice, or part of the band answers another.

McCarthyism  Related to the period during the Cold War during which Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee sought out American citizens who were suspected of being members or former members of, or sympathizers with, the communist party.

metafiction Fiction that self-consciously refers to writing and its conventions.

naturalism  Late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century literary approach of French origin that realistically depicts social problems and views human beings as helpless victims of larger social and economic forces.

novel of identity  Novel that addresses the question of "who am I" and "how do I fit into the society around me."

oral tradition  The passing on of oral culture, tradition, and history from one generation to the next, through stories told time and again. Oral tradition did not, and does not, cease to exist with the rise of literacy; it co-exists, especially in cultures that retain a strong sense of oral dissemination of information and culture.

postmodern literature  Literature that responds to, and is written in the context of, philosophical and socio-historical movements that challenge the progress-oriented master narratives of Enlightenment and positivist traditions. At the beginning of the twentieth century, linguists and philosophers questioned the possibility that language can truly reflect reality, or that any essential, categorical, or transcendental truth claims can be made about the world. From the unspeakable violence of the Holocaust, to the assertion of gender and other personal traits as being malleable and socially constructed, postmodernism has sought to explain the many uncertainties, ironies, contradictions, and multiple points of view that animate the world. Postmodern literature is often consciously self-reflexive, questioning the nature of the text and the authority and existence of the author, and uses techniques like pastiche, metanarrative, nonlinear constructions, absurdity, and irony. Postmodernism is at once a literary style, a critical and theoretical movement, and a description of the sociocultural world of globalized consumer capitalism.

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