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

16. The Search For Identity

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Unit Overview: Glossary

Chicano/a A once derogatory term that has been reclaimed by Mexican Americans. Implies a more radical definition of Mexican Americans' subjectivity than the term "Hispanic."

feminism Feminism is an extremely broad and diverse term that focuses on the examination of sex and gender. It captures an expansive history of, and debate about, personal identity, political action, philosophical inquiry, and literature and literary studies. Feminism itself can be characterized as a movement, a mindset, or a way of being; feminists have examined topics ranging from the unequal treatment of women in almost every aspect of daily life, to the restrictions of patriarchal culture and its oppression of women, to the intersecting forces of race, gender, sex, and class as they impact the possibilities of knowledge, representation, lived experience, cultural and historical interpretation, and the constitution of reality itself. Contemporary feminism can be traced through an extended history of women's activism, particularly the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s. Critics have assailed what they argue is a single-minded, righteous, or anti-male intention within feminism, as the movement itself continues to expand and develop with both clarity and contradiction.

gender variant An individual who does not fit into the categories "male" or "female." The person's genital sexuality may not match his/her gender identity. Can include transsexual and transgendered individuals.

historical roots The values, myths, and culture that often form the foundation of an individual's identity.

identity An individual's consciousness of his/her own being. Can include personality traits as well as an allegiance to social categories such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and religion.

identity politics Movements that focus on securing rights for people from various identity groups, such as women, ethnic and racial minorities, and sexual minorities.

oral tradition Passing cultural wisdom and values from one person or one generation to another through oral storytelling. Unlike written communication, the oral tradition necessarily involves person-to-person contact and is thus by definition community based and performative. The oral tradition was an early stage in virtually every language system and is still prominent in Native American and Chicano cultures, among others.

postmodernism A philosophical and socio-historical movement that challenges the progress-oriented master narrative 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 there can be any essential, categorical, or transcendental truth claims 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 art and literature is often self-consciously reflexive, questioning the nature of the text and the authority and existence of the author; it 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 socio-cultural world of globalized consumer capitalism.

postmodern narrative A story that may not have a linear structure and that incorporates postmodern ideas about form and reality.

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