Imagining Each Other

Blacks and Jews in Contemporary American Literature

By Ethan Goffman

Subjects: African American Studies
Series: SUNY series in Modern Jewish Literature and Culture
Paperback : 9780791446782, 275 pages, August 2000
Hardcover : 9780791446775, 275 pages, August 2000

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Table of contents


1. Monologues and Dialogues

2. Black (E)Masculinity and Anti-Semitism

3. Jewish Assimilationism: White Lies and Black Eyes

4. Ambivalent Estrangements: Jewish Role Models and Black Liberalism

5. Burning Bridges: Black Nationalism and Anti-Semitism

6. Jewish Backlash: The Return of the Black Primitive

7. Aftermaths: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Diversity

8. A New Dispensation

9. Fragmentation and Multiculturalism

10. Parallels and Paralysis

Glossary: A Few Fictions Defines

Explores the complex ways in which Blacks and Jews have portrayed each other in recent American literature.


Imagining Each Other explores Black-Jewish relations by examining the complex ways they have portrayed each other in recent American literature. It illuminates their dramatic alliances and conflicts and their dilemmas of identity and assimilation, and addresses the persistent questions of ethnic division and economic inequality that have so encompassed the Black-Jewish narrative in America. Focusing primarily on the 1960s and its aftermath, the book reveals how Jewish and African Americans view each other through a complex dialectic of identification and difference, channeled by ever-shifting positions within American society. Through the works of Richard Wright, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Amiri Baraka, Paule Marshall, Grace Paley, and others, Goffman unfolds a story of two peoples with powerful biblical and mythic connections that replay themselves in contemporary circumstances. In doing so, he uncovers layers of meaning in works that dramatize this turbulent, paradoxical relationship, and reveals how this relationship is paradigmatic of multicultural American self-invention.

Ethan Goffman is Lecturer in English at Purdue University.


"…Goffman provides both a theoretical frame for understanding ethnic relations in culture generally and a history of some of the pertinent facts pertaining to black-Jewish relations in the United States in particular. " — The Jewish Quarterly Review

"Ethan Goffman's book is a welcome—and necessary—addition to the comparative study of African American and Jewish American cultures. Patient, empathetic, and elegantly written, it should dramatically enhance our ability to make meaning of this challenging and rich encounter between proud and accomplished communities. " — James C. Hall, editor of Approaches to Teaching Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

"This book is very comprehensive, dealing with works by canonical and lesser-known authors, and putting them all within a relatively detailed historical and social context. It is sensitive to the dialectical relationship of literary representation to events in the real world. And it is balanced and judicious in its treatment of an extremely volatile topic, a topic of the utmost importance not merely to readers, but to all who seek a deeper understanding of minority relations in modern America. " — Norman Finkelstein, author of The Ritual of New Creation