The fiction of the past quarter-century has seen a resurgence of the fascination with community which has been a leitmotif in American women’s narratives. Just as earlier periods of cultural transformation witnessed a flowering of fictions with fresh notions of community at their centre (for instance, during the breakdown of Victorian certitudes in the 1890s), so this period (1970–95) can be described as a phase of radical communitarianism. For writers such as Cynthia Ozick, Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston the novelist remains a storyteller (all three are indebted to the folkloric modernism of the 1920s and 1930s); but the relationship between storyteller and community has become more complex, and sometimes fraught. For the communitarians, storytelling is complicated by the interplay of the imagined communities addressed by the writer. The communitarian writes for a readership of women, for her own ethnic or cultural ‘village’ (in Morrison’s term); but these authors also claim a national significance for their stories, addressing fundamental national subjects (migration, race, cultural pluralism). In writing about the structures of community (the lore of Judaism, say, in Ozick’s Puttermesser stories) these authors provide local fictional templates for a conceptualised understanding of what culture is and how the individual situates herself within cultures.
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