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«ALL RIGHTS RESERVED HUNGARIAN ROMA AND AFRICAN AMERICAN AUTOBIOGRAPHIES IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE: LAKATOS, PELINE NYARI, WRIGHT, AND HURSTON by ...»

-- [ Page 1 ] --

2011

Tamas Demeny

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

HUNGARIAN ROMA AND AFRICAN AMERICAN AUTOBIOGRAPHIES

IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE:

LAKATOS, PELINE NYARI, WRIGHT, AND HURSTON

by

TAMAS DEMENY

A Dissertation submitted to the

Graduate School-New Brunswick

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Graduate Program in Comparative Literature written under the direction of Janet A. Walker and approved by ________________________

________________________

________________________

________________________

New Brunswick, New Jersey May, 2011

Abstract

OF THE DISSERTATION

Hungarian Roma and African American Autobiographies

in Comparative Perspective:

Lakatos, Peline Nyari, Wright, and Hurston By TAMAS DEMENY

Dissertation Director:

Janet A. Walker My dissertation is a comparative study of the following Hungarian Roma and African American autobiographies: Menyhért Lakatos's Smoky Pictures, Hilda Péliné Nyári's My Little Life, Richard Wright's Black Boy, and Zora Neale Hurston's Dust Tracks on a Road. I use the rich critical literature on African American autobiographies to better understand Gypsy autobiographies, about which there is a paucity of literary scholarship.

I make use of the latest developments in theoretical writings about the genre of autobiography, particularly autoethnography. So, my study is a groundbreaking work on Hungarian Roma autobiographies, and my comparative method brings an original contribution to the fields of comparative literature and cross-cultural ethnic studies.

My dissertation focuses, on the one hand, on how the Hungarian Roma and African American authors grapple with ways to understand their own cultures and present their experiences and insights, and, on the other hand, on the equally complex presentations of contacts with the majority cultures. The authors search for ways to reveal ii the dynamics of their cultures and their special positions within them, using the language, cultural productions, and ideologies of the majority culture, finding ways to express things that are often unthinkable in the majority culture's understanding of the world. A study of the narrators' relationships with their mothers and families opens up ways of understanding the complexities of their own cultures and their complicated relationships to these cultures. While descriptions of the relationships with the mothers are readily accessible to most readers, these descriptions point beyond themselves to the complicated and emotionally charged relationships to the cultures.

The presentation of intercultural encounters is equally unique and difficult in each case, as the subject of the minority culture describes experiences of oppression and disadvantaged status. Experiences of poverty, isolation, disrespect, and lack of access to education can be difficult to transmit because these experiences penetrate the deepest levels of one's being. I study the presentations of violence because violent experiences are palpable and emotional ways of encountering oppression at the hands of the majority culture. The understanding thus gained can explain the varying attitudes towards resistance among the four authors.

–  –  –

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to my dissertation advisor, Janet A.

Walker, for her detailed help, encouragement, and support in writing my dissertation.

I am also grateful for the comments, suggestions, and help received from the readers of my dissertation: Kathleen E. Dubs, M. Josephine Diamond, and Gerald Pirog.

My wife, Vera, created an atmosphere in our home conducive to long hours of silent work. Thank you.

iv Table of Contents

Abstract of the Dissertation………………………………………………………………. ii Acknowledgments……………………………………………………………………….. iv Table of Contents..……………………………………………………………………….. v Introduction

General Introduction to the Four Texts

Historical, Economic, and Cultural Backgrounds

Theories of Autobiography and Autoethnography in Reference to the Four Texts

The Structure of This Dissertation

Part I. Dialogues of the Authors with Their Own Cultural Group

Introduction

The Insider/Outsider Positions of the Artists in Autoethnographies

Understanding Mothers, Homes, Art, and Education with the Help of Alice Walker

The Authors' Presentations of Their Artistic Developments

Chapter 1. The Mother Characters: Representations of Complex Ties to Cultures.

..... 84 Zora's Mother: Culture and Distance

Richard's Mother: Strictness and Alienation

Hilda's Mother: Culture and Closeness

Boncza's Mother: Culture and Alienation

Chapter 2. "Unhomely Homes:" Multiple Views of Cultures





Homes in Hurston: Various Ways of Looking at the South

Wright's Home: Multiple Views of Homelessness and Rootlessness................. 135 Péliné's Home: Finding Her Self in Multicultural Budapest

Lakatos's Home: Three Ways of Looking at Gypsy Life

Part II. Dialogues of the Authors with the Majority Cultures

Introduction

Chapter 3. Violence and Racial Oppression

Violence in Wright: Violence Penetrating All Aspects of Life

Violence in Lakatos: Fair and Unfair Encounters

Violence in Hurston: Looking at Both Sides of Racial Attitudes

Violence in Péliné: Attempts to Break Down Racial Boundaries

Conclusion

Chapter 4. Repression and Resistance

Background and Terminology: Some Notes on Foucault and de Certeau.......... 208 Wright: Expected Modes of Behavior and Restless Movement

Lakatos: Restless Movement and Wandering

Hurston: Wandering to Claim Her Freedom

Péliné: Wandering to Connect Races

Conclusion

Conclusion

Bibliography

Curriculum Vitae………………………………………………………………………. 278

–  –  –

Introduction My dissertation is a comparative study of two Hungarian Roma and two African American autobiographies, using the existing critical and theoretical literature on the African American writings to shed light on the much neglected Hungarian Roma literature. Menyhért Lakatos's Smoky Pictures (Füstös képek), and Hilda Péliné Nyári's My Little Life and Dodó and I (in two volumes: Az én kis életem, Dodó és én) comprise almost the entirety of the Hungarian Roma autobiographical tradition in written format, calling out for attention, appreciation, study, and followers. Zora Neale Hurston's Dust Tracks on a Road and Richard Wright's Black Boy (American Hunger) continue to stand as two defining masterpieces of African American autobiographical literature from the middle of the twentieth century, much discussed, critiqued, compared, and contrasted.

Hence, a comparison of these four minority autobiographies might be a step in the increasingly globalized world's search for new coalitions for freedom and equality. I will first focus on how the authors struggle with ways to understand their own cultures and present their experiences and insights to the readers. Then, I will study the equally complex presentations of contacts with the majority cultures.

The rich critical and theoretical literature dealing with African American autobiographies in general, and the two works I have chosen in particular, will be used to better understand Gypsy autobiographies and Gypsy writing, about which there is a paucity of literary scholarship either in Hungarian or in English. I will also make use of the latest developments in theoretical writings about the genre of autobiography, particularly autoethnography. My work is the first study of its kind on Hungarian Gypsy autobiographies, and I trust it will promote the much needed and deserved acknowledgement of their literary and artistic values. Moreover, I hope that these comparisons will also shed light on some previously unexplored issues in the works of Wright and Hurston as well. Using the words of Michael Grobbel, I want my work to "encourage non-Romany readers to revise their relationship with the Roma" (Grobbel 146). I also hope that my serious scholarly investigations will encourage further studies, contributing to the development of Hungarian Roma literary scholarship and intellectual work.

The authors need to look for ways to reveal the dynamics of their cultures and their own special experiences within them, using the language, cultural productions, and ideologies of the majority culture, finding ways to express things that are often unthinkable in the majority culture's understanding of the world. Hurston's understandings of African American folk culture, Wright's traumatic experiences of his childhood, Péliné's particularly strong family relationships, and Lakatos's grapples with a mythic past are examples of unique and special experiences of minority life that may not be immediately available either to readers of the majority culture or even to members of the authors' own ethnic groups. This understanding and presentation must be done in a situation where the author's own subject position is already tenuous, being distanced— through education and profession—from the minority culture described, but not being a part of the majority culture in which the writing takes place. I find that a study of the narrators' relationships with their mothers and families opens up ways of understanding the complexities of their own cultures and the authors' complicated relationships to these cultures. While descriptions of the relationships with the mothers are readily available to most readers, these descriptions point beyond themselves to the uniquely complicated and emotional relationships to the narrators' cultural and social backgrounds. While the mothers of Hurston and Péliné are of prime importance in carrying values of culture and perseverance in an environment deemed hopeless by many, Wright's and Lakatos's presentations of their mother characters reveal complex understandings of relating to racial and political issues.

The presentation of intercultural encounters is equally unique and difficult in each case, as the subject of the minority culture describes experiences of oppression and disadvantaged status. The often traumatic experiences of discrimination, violence, poverty, isolation, lack of access to education, or simply not being considered a person can be difficult to transmit. I consider the study of violence useful in minority narratives because experiences of violence are palpable and emotional ways of encountering oppression at the hands of the majority culture. Violence appears in all four books, and it can give the most readily accessible descriptions of intercultural encounters. It represents the physical and material realities of living in an oppressive environment, while also standing for other forms of being violated, of having to live in the contact zones of cultures, and finding expectations, dreams, freedom stifled. While inter-racial violence is an understandable representation of all other kinds of violations done by the majority culture against oppressed minorities, intra-racial violence indicates the depth to which oppression has penetrated the deepest recesses of minority life. The traumatic experiences of violence in Wright underline the depth to which oppression has entered his personal life. The young Zora Neale Hurston's fights develop her personality, while violence and the threat of violence between blacks and whites urge her to develop her own unique attitude towards race issues. Lakatos's experiences of violence emphasize both the importance and the difficulties of achieving his goals of work and education. Péliné uses scenes of violence to emphasize the degrading nature of poverty and the importance of the family's safety-net. A study of violence in all four narratives is a background against which I will consider the various representations of other forms of oppression and possible responses to these.

General Introduction to the Four Texts The Choice of African American Narratives Among twentieth-century African American autobiographies, Richard Wright's and Zora Neale Hurston's are of primary significance. The importance of each has been acknowledged by such famous critics as Irving Howe and Henry Louis Gates. For example, Howe wrote about Wright: "The day Native Son appeared, American culture was changed forever … Black Boy, which appeared five years after Native Son, is a slighter but more skillful piece of writing" (Howe 121); while Gates concludes in his "Afterword" to Dust Tracks on a Road that "Hurston became a metaphor for the black woman writer's search for tradition" (Gates, "Afterword" 288). Read together, Hurston's and Wright's autobiographies raise even more important critical and theoretical issues.

Gates claims that "[f]ew authors in the black tradition have less in common than Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright" (Gates "Afterword" 290). Katherine Henninger notes that while Wright and Hurston were "two of the South's most famous sociological and anthropological investigators," they are "most often paired as ideological opposites, especially in matters of rhetorico-literary strategy" (Henninger 581). Their ideological opposition was already discussed in their lifetimes, and was apparent even for the authors

themselves. Laura Dubek reports their mutual criticism of each other's works:



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