This introductory chapter provides an overview of the figure of the Arab in the nineteenth-century American discourse. Arab could and did indicate an intermediary position between foreigner and citizen, black and white, primitive and civilized. The discursive creation of these figurative Arabs speaks to the shifting racial parameters of American citizenship, as well as to American writers' propensity to use foreign references to redefine those parameters. Figurative Arabs thus acted as cross-cultural references that destabilized the very terms of identification by which American national discourse distinguished the United States as a historically and spatially unique entity. This book provides an account of why these figurative Arabs of American literature were created and how they influenced definitions of national belonging.
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