Tradition and Modernity : Images of Jews in Latvian Novels 1934 – 1944
Abstract: Jews have been represented in Latvian literature for centuries. This dissertation investigates the images of Jews in a comprehensive selection of Latvian novels published between 1934–1944 in order to establish whether, and to what extent, the traditional images are subject to change under the pressure of modernity, nationalism and a rapidly changing political situation.Since most representations of, and references to, Jews in this literature are very brief, it is necessary to initially deprive the individual works of their titles and authors and let them form an authorless entity, a Corpus, however diverse, yet representative of Latvian society at the time.Through this approach the centres of attention are put aside, and the scattered images of Jews are brought into focus. With the help of a Matrix designed for this purpose, all ‘Jews’ are sorted and analysed. The Matrix, including also linguistic references, illustrates how Jews in the discourse are made to represent the ‘other’ through the provision of certain pieces of information and the omission others. The Jews in the Corpus, with very few exceptions, are thus systematically and consistently reduced to blank images and stereotypes. Through this process they are also subject to ‘othering’ and dehumanisation, albeit not necessarily articulated as such.The social distance between Latvians and Jews becomes more pronounced in the Corpus compared to in the Latvian literary tradition, and there are several examples of negative attitudes and anti-Semitism. Yet, with regard to the extreme political situation, especially under Soviet and Nazi occupations, these examples are fewer than expected: the investigated literature follows its own traditions and, with hardly any exceptions, does not reflect societal and political changes immediately.
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