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Jewish literature Lecture notes

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Karen Weisman

October 13, 2011 Genre of Yekl and The Imported Bridegroom: novella Cahan was a journalist, long time editor of the Yiddish Daily Forward. Left wing socialist, politically engaged community organizer. Cahan’s prose is discursive, but not journalistic. Wealth of info, in-depth understanding and strong political awareness is infused in the fiction. These short stories are vignettes of cultural life and struggle of Jewish immigrants in the Lower East Side, NY. Gitl negotiates complexities and conflicts that are unique for Jewish women, Jewish woman qua woman. The Jewish immigrant woman faced discrimination from within the Jewish society, as well as wider society, which is always a subtext. Cahan called proto-feminist for paying attention to the challenges faced by women, but Prof does not think he necessarily critiqued gender roles in the feminist way. He was interested in Jewish family life minutiae, through which he shows concern for the experience of the Jewish woman. Yekl is in the tradition of American Realism, which: - Invoilved local color, strict fidelity to individuals in a particular time and place - Regional variances, sensitivity to dialects, their racial and class dimension Yekl’s claims about his friend in Boston, Christian “feller”, boxer etc, Jews there speak English like a stream. However, his own English is ironically fragmented in syntax, indicative of his race and class status. He worked in a cloakshop, a specialized sweatshop, confined with Yiddish speakers all day. His English is not educated, but Yiddish inflected. Yekl was struggling with his own incomprehension. Pg. 27, Yekl is not a simple mouthpiece, Cahan actually shows hostility towards him! Now Gitl, her whole world turned upside down, she is the displaced Jewish wife. American realism turns its gaze towards the life of people caught up in their specific reality. Cahan exposes life of Gitl caught in limbo between: - Old vs. New world - Yekl vs, Bernstein These are points of contrast. Bernstein a foil for Jake. What one likes the other dislikes. Question from student: Yekl’s punctuated Hebrew acquired by rote, can’t actually read Hebrew Bible. Does this mean Cahan thought Jewish spiritual message did not reach him? Prof: Not necessarily, since Hebrew not yet revived in Cahan’s time, well before the creation of the state of Israel. Cahan simply talking about level of literacy. Yekl mocking the incompetence of fellow Jews while he himself is illiterate. Part of Jake’s understanding of himself as an assimilated PLAIN SPEAKING American comes from casting off Yidd
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