Revealing Your Delusions: Perspectives on American Values in Contemporary African Fiction
REVEALING YOUR DELUSIONS: PERSPECTIVES ON AMERICAN VALUES IN CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN FICTIONAlyson Massey, B.A.MALS Mentor: Charles Yonkers, J.D.ABSTRACTIn recent years, there has been a growing popularization in fiction of African authors writing novels about immigrating to America. While immigrant fiction has certainly played a key role in the last century of American literature, the African perspective has not been largely advertised in this category. This paper thus examines contemporary African fiction to compare how African-born immigrants and Americans each view the effectiveness of US cultural values.National values polls and scholarly studies of American cultural history reveal first how Americans perceive their national values. In addition, this thesis explores five African-authored novels as its literary framework: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, Teju Cole’s Open City, NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, Dinaw Mengestu’s The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, and Okey Ndibe’s Foreign Gods, Inc. Looking for the common responses to American culture in these novels, despite the characters’ diverse backgrounds, this paper then compares the African experiences with American values to the American peoples’ self-perceived values.What this comparison demonstrates is that firstly, Americans generally believe that their top values of freedom, equality, and opportunity are ripe in today’s society. The majority still endorse the idea that the American dream of success is available to all, and that immigrants and minorities are treated fairly. The African narratives, however, reveal a different opinion. These African authors universally demonstrate an experience in the US rife with false promises of economic opportunity, social and cultural exclusion, racial oppression and disconnect, and ignorant ethnic stereotyping. In fact, most of the authors conclude their novels with some sort of rejection of American culture entirely, a pattern previously uncommon in American immigrant fiction.Overall this thesis concludes that Americans, especially white and upper-class Americans, have a perception of their national values that is a far cry from how those values truly play out in daily life. Through the intimate lens of the fiction narrative, these African authors convey how inaccessible economic wealth and equality are for those considered outsiders in the US, especially minorities. Their stories are a call for Americans to reexamine the reality of those ideals that purportedly apply to all people within the nation’s borders, but in actuality only apply to some. Focusing on the daily cultural effects of these false promises, and less on the larger political scale, this thesis thus highlights the need for Americans to partake in honest self-reflection of how they practice their national values and to more earnestly engage with cultural outsiders to genuinely live up to those ideals of freedom, equality, and tolerance.
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