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After 9/11: The Fate of Strangers

David Simpson

Pages 193 - 206


The commonplace self-image of the United States is one of openness and hospitality: “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But post- 9/11 America seems to have radically curtailed its welcome to strangers. This essay argues that far from being a complete change of heart, this situation emphasizes one element of a tradition that had always been deeply ambivalent about immigrants and foreign visitors, who have often been welcomed precisely as objects of suspicion. It looks at a sampling of post-9/11 film and fiction that expresses and analyses the double-edged predicament of those arriving in America. Emma Lazarus’s famous poem itself invokes the “wretched refuse” of foreign shores in a voice that supposedly contrasts with that of the inhospitable nations of the earth but reflexively suggests a counternarrative in the homeland itself. Among the various films and novels discussed in this essay, Kamila Shamsie’s ‘Burnt Shadows’ and Thomas McCarthy’s ‘The Visitor’ figure prominently.


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