Publication Date

April 2018

Advisor(s)

Indira Karamcheti, Khachig T?l?lyan

Language

English (United States)

Abstract

The American conception of authenticity relies on the idea of validation through self-expression. If this is the case, then he artist, who wrestles with their own identities in order to put forth a product of their authenticity, is the truest example of an authentic person. As such, it is not merely art that is analyzed, but rather, the entire brand of the artist. This idea becomes complicated by both the fact that authenticity has no true definition, and the introduction of non-white diasporic writers who can not be immediately categorized into pre-determined authentic niches. This thesis uses diasporic Indian American author, Jhumpa Lahiri, in order to analyze the way in which the literary sphere attempts to solidify her authenticity for her, through genre-classification, and through the repeated themes on which reviewers choose to focus. Jhumpa Lahiri functions as the perfect case study for this research because her 20-year career, and extreme popularity among mainstream readers provide ample opportunity to analyze the way in which a desire for authenticity affects her reception. The research begins by exploring Lahiri?s own biography, and the true heights of her success. It then turns to the history of the term ?authentic? and its connection to the self, culture, and art. Using these understandings of authenticity, I am able to look at the misclassification of Lahiri as a postcolonial writer. This association is tethered to the alignment between postcoloniality and minority authenticity, and thus here the thesis dives further into what ?Postcolonial Literature? misrepresents about Lahiri, and what ?World Literature? could more aptly depict. Lastly, the thesis turns to an overview and analysis of 50 reviews written about Lahiri over the span of her career, in an attempt to highlight patterns and deviations in the way to which her authenticity is alluded. The final results of this study confirm that Jhumpa Lahiri?s universality, which allowed for innumerable specific authenticities to be cast upon her, lie at the root of her success. This problem is one that is continuously faced by minority writers, as they are required to be both specific to their ?minority authenticity,? and yet not so specific that they alienate mainstream readership. The results of this study prove important in nearly all academic fields, though especially those of English Literature, American Studies, History and Religion. These disciplines come together to create my University Major in South Asian Diaspora Studies, and thus form the foundation of this thesis. Though there is a strong urge in academia to no longer discuss the ?inauthentic/authentic? divide, because neither of those terms hold much meaning, it is clear that they still hold much power. This research confirms the fact that ideas of authenticity continue to function as an guiding pulse in America. It also opens up further questions about the publishing industry and the way in which minority authors are able to move through it. The avoidance of authenticity will only serve as a handicap in any discipline that attempts to understand how people function in relation to one another. This thesis is vital in putting authenticity back at the forefront of conversation.

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