"Unseen and unheard" : representations of mental illness in contemporary American immigrant literature
Stuart, Ellen D.
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Focusing on two novels, Wendy Law-Yone's The Coffin Tree and Julia Alvarez's How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, this analysis employs a framework drawn from research on mental health, which recognizes the cumulative impact of the immigrant's experiences through the process of migration on his/her development of mental illness by dividing migration into three stages: pre-migration, peri-migration, and post-migration. Because each stage carries its own set of factors potentially increasing the immigrant's vulnerability to mental illness, the experiences of the individual characters during the stages of migration are examined, as are their experiences of specific mental illnesses. Reading immigrant fiction through this framework reveals the depth of the immigrant experience and fully exposes the dark side of immigration, the devastating mental and emotional impact, which for some proves to be catastrophic. Mainstream cultural notions of the immigrant narrative are subverted: there is no hopeful departure from the old world to the welcoming shores of America; there is no achievement of the "American Dream." Instead, there is darkness, fear, instability, and madness.