Dialogic Approach to Reading and Teaching Ethnic American Texts

Author: Bellas-Papageorge, Gale
This study addresses the influx of ethnic texts into the literary canon and provides a theoretical / pedagogical strategy for reading and teaching ethnic American texts based on the theoretical works of M.M. Bakhtin, particularly dialogism and literary polyphony. Because students are often rooted safely in their own cultures, they often do not have an opportunity to engage, experience, or appreciate texts of other cultures. As a result of this inexperience, students exhibit a resistance or inability to engage in meaningful dialogue with these texts, and the result is that these texts are often read through the ethnocentric assumptions (linguistic and otherwise) of the reader’s own culture rather than the cultural context(s) to which the text belongs. This study demonstrates reading strategies designed to help readers acknowledge the polyphony in American ethnic minority texts and recognize how the characters’ and narrators’ representations of self and the self’s relationship to its environment reside in this polyphony. The first part of the book explains the major principles behind dialogism, provides a definition of terms and demonstrates an application of these principles to specific ethnic American texts taught in an introductory literature course. Each chapter in this section includes a comparative, recursive analysis of works discussed in previous chapters to foreground the differences and similarities in their representations of multivocality. The last section provides a pedagogical application of these principles to a required diversity literature course at the university level.


“Dr. Bellas-Papageorge has accomplished a significant feat of scholarship with this book through combining theoretical sophistication with critical interpretation and linking and taking that combination beyond the typical act of literary analysis ... She has provided a set of persuasive interpretations of significant American fiction and poetry from various ethnicities, along with a challenging reading of an accomplished world novelist. And she has laid out a highly effective pedagogy for teaching a diversity-based literary course in particular and ethnic American literature in general.” – (from the Foreword) Professor Patrick D. Murphy, University of Central Florida

“This is a welcome guide for teachers of multicultural literature in the university classroom. It is accessible and solidly grounded in the critical theories of M.M. Bakhtin, which Dr. Bellas-Papageorge discusses through direct reading of his works and through his major interpreters ... This book is a refreshing change from texts that are conceived and written in literary critical isolation and seem to ignore pedagogical concerns along with classroom realities ...” – Professor Erika J. Waters, University of Southern Maine

“How do you engage the student reader in an assigned text? Every teacher of literature has asked this question at least once, if not more often. The question becomes even more in need of an answer as the diversity of texts taught in the college classroom expands. In this book, Dr. Bellas-Papageorge not only recognizes this all-important question but provides a clearly explained and classroom-tested teaching strategy for professors who are seeking a successful method for teaching American ethnic minority texts ...” – Professor Sharon Gallagher, Penn State University

Table of Contents

Foreword by Patrick D. Murphy
1. Recognizing Literary Polyphony as a Strategy for Reading and Teaching Ethnic American Texts
2. Contradiction as Strategy in Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven and Simon Ortiz’s Woven Stone
3. Homes of the Heart: The Futuristic Chicana and Chinese American Female Hero in The House on Mango Street and Bone
4. Signification as Voice in Sula and The Bluest Eyes
5. Alternate and Simultaneous Voicing in Kasuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day
6. Using Dialogism as a Pedagogical Tool for Teaching Ethnic American Texts: A Teacher’s Journal
7. Conclusion
Works Cited