In this important new study, Judith Oster looks at the literature of Chinese Americans and Jewish Americans in relation to each other. Examining what is most at issue for both groups as they live between two cultures, languages, and environments, Oster focuses on the struggles of protagonists to form identities that are necessarily bicultural and always in process. Recognizing what poststructuralism has demonstrated regarding the instability of the subject and the impossibility of a unitary identity, Oster contends that the writers of these works are attempting to shore up the fragments, to construct, through their texts, some sort of wholeness and to answer at least partially the questions Who am I? and Where do I belong? Oster also examines the relationship of the reader to these texts. When encountering texts written by and about "others," readers enter a world different from their own, only to find that the book has become mirrorlike, reflecting aspects of themselves: they encounter identity struggles that are familiar but writ large, more dramatic, and set in alien environments. Among the figures Oster considers are writers of autobiographical works like Maxine Hong Kingston and Eva Hoffman and writers of fiction: Amy Tan, Anzia Yezierska, Henry Roth, Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick, Lan Samantha Chang, and Frank Chin. In explicating their work, Oster uses Lacan's idea of the "mirror stage," research in language acquisition and bilingualism, the reader-response theories of Iser and Wimmers, and the identity theories of Charles Taylor, Emile Benveniste, and others. Oster provides detailed analyses of mirrors and doubling in bicultural texts; the relationships between language and identity and between language and culture; and code-switching and interlanguage (English expressed in a foreign syntax). She discusses food and hunger as metaphors that express the urgent need to hear and tell stories on the part of those forging a bicultural identity. She also shows how American schooling can undermine the home culture's deepest values, exacerbating children's conflicts within their families and within themselves. In a chapter on theories of autobiography, Oster looks at the act of writing and how the page becomes a home that bicultural writers create for themselves. Written in an engaging, readable style, this is a valuable contribution to the field of multicultural literary criticism.
Every poem, Robert Frost declared, "is an epitome of the great predicament, a figure of the will braving alien entanglements". This study considers what Frost meant by those entanglements, how he braved them in his poetry, and how he invited his readers to do the same. In the process it contributes significantly to a new critical awareness of Frost as a complex artist who anticipated postmodernism―a poet who invoked literary traditions and conventions frequently to set himself in tension with them.
Using the insights of reader-response theory, Judith Oster explains how Frost appeals to readers with his apparent accessibility and then, because of the openness of his poetry's possibilities, engages them in the process of constructing meaning. Frost's poems, she demonstrates, teach the reader how they should be read; at the same time, they resist closure and definitive reading. The reader's acts of encountering and constructing the poems parallel Frost's own encounters and acts of construction.
Commenting at length on a number of individual poems, Oster ranges in her discussion from the ways in which the poet dramatizes the inadequacy of the self alone to the manner in which he "reads" the Book of Genesis or the writing of Emerson. Oster illuminates, finally, the central conflict in Frost: his need to be read well against his fear of being read; his need to share his creation against his fear of its appropriation by others.