The Construction of Irish Identity in American Literature

The Construction of Irish Identity in American Literature


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This book examines the development of literary constructions of Irish-American identity from the mid-nineteenth century arrival of the Famine generation through the Great Depression. It goes beyond an analysis of negative Irish stereotypes and shows how Irish characters became the site of intense cultural debate regarding American identity, with some writers imagining Irishness to be the antithesis of Americanness, but others suggesting Irishness to be a path to Americanization. This study emphasizes the importance of considering how a sense of Irishness was imagined by both Irish-American writers conscious of the process of self-definition as well as non-Irish writers responsive to shifting cultural concerns regarding ethnic others. It analyzes specific iconic Irish-American characters including Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara, as well as lesser-known Irish monsters who lurked in the American imagination such as T.S. Eliot’s Sweeney and Frank Norris’ McTeague. As Dowd argues, in contemporary American society, Irishness has been largely absorbed into a homogeneous white culture, and as a result, it has become a largely invisible ethnicity to many modern literary critics. Too often, they simply do not see Irishness or do not think it relevant, and as a result, many Irish-American characters have been de-ethnicized in the critical literature of the past century. This volume reestablishes the importance of Irish ethnicity to many characters that have come to be misread as generically white and shows how Irishness is integral to their stories.



Publication Date





New York


Irish-American, Irish stereotypes, Irish identity

Subject: LCSH

Irish Americans in literature, Irish--Ethnic identity, Irish in literature, American literature--History and criticism


English Language and Literature | Literature in English, North America


Routledge Transnational Perspectives on American Literature, Vol. 13

Publisher Citation

Dowd, Christopher. The Construction of Irish Identity in American Literature. New York: Routledge, 2011.

The Construction of Irish Identity in American Literature