Slovak American Literature – Imagological reading of Thomas Bell´s Out of This Furnace

Anton Pokrivčák, University of Trnava, Slovakia;    Abstract: With multicultural, postcolonial or decolonial approaches, the late 20th century saw increasing tendency to see literature as part of cultural and political identity struggles. While in Europe identity has traditionally been understood mostly in national terms, as a result of a long existence of individual nation states made up largely of ethnically homogeneous people living in one institutionally organised arrangement defined by common language, history and culture, in American literature it has meant the necessity for ethnically and culturally divergent parts of  society to find ways how to exist in one political and cultural whole. The paper will discuss how this originally European concept evolved in American literary and cultural studies, with special regard to the work of some ethnic literatures, especially that of Slovak American literature.

Although Slovak Americans are considered the second largest Slavic minority in the USA, their literature and culture have not been given almost any critical attention, either in their “old” home, Slovakia, or in the country they adopted to be their new homeland, the USA. Even though in cultural, artistic, philosophical or scientific fields one can identify several significant Americans with Slovak roots (Andy Warhol, Michael Novak, etc.), in the field of literature proper it would be difficult to find a personality with a national appeal. However, one of the writers who should not be excluded from such larger, national context, is Thomas Bell, the author of “the novel of immigrant labor” Out of This Furnace, which tells a story of three generations of Slovak immigrants into the USA. The novel is interesting not only from the aspect of the characters´ acquisition of the American identity but also because of its portrayals of national and ethnic stereotypes. These portrayals will be approached through the concept of imagology, i.e. a non-traditionalist and non-essentialist approach to identity studies that emerged and came to prominence in the late 20th century.

Keywords: imagology, comparative literature, national literatures, ethnic stereotypes, topos

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