When is an immigrant’s autobiography not an immigrant autobiography? The Americanization of Edward Bok

Lauret, Maria (2013) When is an immigrant’s autobiography not an immigrant autobiography? The Americanization of Edward Bok. MELUS, 38 (3). pp. 7-24. ISSN 0163-755X

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Abstract

The Americanization of Edward Bok: The Autobiography of a Dutch Boy Fifty Years After was an immediate bestseller on publication in 1920 and has continued to be regarded as an American classic. This article considers Bok's autobiography in the context of the early twentieth-century Americanization movement and in light of the author's friendship with one of that movement's main proponents, Theodore Roosevelt, in part based on their common Dutch roots. First exploring the place of Bok's book within the tradition of immigrant autobiography, the article argues that although Bok invokes his Dutch immigrant origins, his autobiography is best understood as an Americanization tract presented in Rooseveltian terms rather than as a story of how Bok himself was Americanized. Second, it shows how Bok's role as longtime editor of the Ladies' Home Journal was vital, as he used his position in the public sphere to spread the Americanization gospel primarily to native-born, middle-class women. Bok's autobiography exploited his reputation and success as editor and friend of presidents to market Americanization to immigrants and the native-born. The article concludes that the Bush administration's policy initiative of 2008, Building an Americanization Movement for the Twenty-First Century, warrants a reexamination of Bok's autobiography. Its role in setting a paranoid standard of Americanization as Americanism for immigrants and Americans alike lasted well into the twentieth century and may serve as a cautionary tale for ethnic studies scholars today.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Depositing User: Laura Vellacott
Date Deposited: 05 Jun 2013 13:33
Last Modified: 13 Mar 2017 11:03
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/45269

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