2: Essay excerpt, Werner Sollors's "Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture," 1986.
In his work of cultural criticism, Werner Sollors argues that American identities are formed through negotiations between descent (attention to ethnic, racial, and familial heritage) and consent (cultural and political affiliations that subjects choose for themselves, sometimes out of a desire to belong, even if such affiliations go against familial heritage). He analyzes works of American literature, including Abraham Cahan’s Yekl, to show that the business of navigating between these poles is central to American culture.
Suggested Activity: Have your students read the passage and discuss: to what extent do you think Sollors’s concepts of descent and consent are evident in Jake’s struggle to define himself in his new American setting? In what cultures is Jake trying to take part? What elements of these cultures does Jake feel pushed and pulled by?
Source: Werner Sollors, Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 6.