Unites states of detection : race, ethnicity and the contemporary American crime novel.
There has been much debate over the nature of relations between the
different ethnic and racial groups in the United States. Some argue that the
United States is a genuinely multi-cultural nation where the opportunity for
universal socio-political and economic advancement still exists. Others, however,
paint America as a nation fundamentally split down a black'/'white'
middle, despite the recent arrival of vast numbers of immigrants from Asia
and Latin America and maintain that racially-determined discrimination has
irrevocably undermined its pluralist ambitions.
It is my belief that neither position offers an entirely accurate portrait of
the nature of relations between different ethnic and racial groups, because
neither offers a suitably complex and flexible model for boundary or identity
construction. Using Bakhtin's theory of 'dialogics' I argue that detective
fiction can provide this kind of model because the novel is "heteroglot" and
as such reflects all the voices present in society, and the detective acts as a
kind of cultural mediator who moves between and thus draws together the
different racial and ethnic groups.
I also explore the formal and thematic characteristics of detective fiction
produced by writers of African-American, Chicano, Cuban and Jewish descent
in order to establish how their experiences have been different. Yet, it
is not my aim to seal off the various groups in pure ethnic enclaves; rather,
to assess whether and where the areas of commonality exist. To this extent,
I theorize 'race' and 'ethnicity' as overlapping yet diverging categories. I
argue that the ethnic detective novel acknowledges this situation and offers
a model for identity construction which both recognizes the extent of racial
divisions but which is also flexible enough to acknowledge that significant
group interplay does also take place.