Youth Gangs in Literature

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Gang culture is one of the most volatile issues to have impacted young people throughout history and around the world. By focusing on the fictional representation of youth gangs, this work presents a unique perspective on an all-too-real phenomenon and its many manifestations. Organized chronologically and topically, the volume begins with a powerful essay tracing the origins and developments of youth gangs, from the early days of the Wild West to immigration gangs in 19th- and 20th-century America and the modern urban conflicts often associated with race and socioeconomic disadvantages. Twenty chapters, each introduced with a primary document, fully explore the different types of gangs, identifying their time, place, struggles, and demographic character. Included are the early gangs of New York City, prison gangs, Asian gangs, school gangs, African American gangs, and girl gangs. Each chapter analyzes one or more works of fiction in terms of its thematic message and the light it sheds on the nature of the depicted gang situation. The examined fiction will be of special interest to students and educators, and includes works often found on assigned reading lists, such as The Chocolate War, The Outsiders, and Lord of the Flies. Popular works, such as Gangs of New York, provide an historical perspective on early immigrant gangs, while presenting timeless themes of identity struggles that resonate for young people everywhere. In addition to the literary works and primary documents, suggestions for additional titles and sources for further information on the topics are offered.

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Editorial Reviews

When someone speaks of youth gangs, what picture comes to mind? Is it an image of kids in fancy cars slowly cruising the streets of South Central Los Angeles? Or might it be teenagers with beepers striding across trash-strewn parking lots in the Bronx? How about Tom Sawyer? After all, he was a gang leader. Or what about Billy the Kid? Or Studs Lonigan? In this fabulous resource for teachers and librarians, Johnson looks at twenty different examples from the world of literature, all of which explore the theme of youth gangs. And as if holding a jewel up to the light, Johnson displays the many facets of young gangs. What are the forces that push them into existence? Who joins and why? What role does violence play? Each chapter focuses on a specific book and pairs it with a historical parallel. For example, the chapter on William Golding's Lord of the Flies compares the increasing depravation of the boys on the island with the rise of Nazism in Germany. Johnson's writing style is friendly, with excellent plot summaries that read more like booktalks than literary criticism. This resource is one of a pair of books that introduce the Exploring Social Issues Through Literature series, joining Literature and the Environment, edited by George Hart and Scott Slovic (Greenwood, 2004). These books can serve as readers' advisory for librarians as well as supplemental literature for teachers looking to enhance an English class. 2004, Greenwood, 288p.; Index. Biblio., PLB . Ages adult professional.
—Diane Emge
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Product Details

Meet the Author

CLAUDIA DURST JOHNSON, now an independent scholar, was a Professor Emeritus at University of Alabama, where she served as Chair of the English Department for over ten years. She is the series editor for this series as well as Greenwood's Literature in Context series for which she wrote more than 12 casebooks. She is also the co-author of The Social Impact of the Novel (Greenwood, 2002).

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Table of Contents

1 Outlaw gangs in an outlaw society : Jorge Luis Borges's "the dread redeemer Lazarus Morell" (1972) and Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) 1
2 The Irish immigrant : Herbert Asbury's The Gangs of New York (1927) 15
3 The draft riots : Kevin Baker's Paradise Alley (2002) 25
4 New York gang around the turn of the twentieth century : Jorge Luis Borges's "Monk Eastman, Purveyor of Iniquities" (1972) 39
5 A heritage of guns : Larry McMurtry's Anything for Billy (1998) 47
6 The 1920s in Chicago : James T. Farrell's Studs Lonigan (1932) 61
7 Jewish gangs in brownsville, 1944-1945 : Irving Schulman's The Amboy Dukes (1946) 73
8 1940s in Harlem : Richard Wright's Rite of Passage (1978) 83
9 Nazis and gangs : William golding's Lord of the Flies (1954) 93
10 A girl gang in the 1950s : Joyce Carol Oates's Foxfire (1993) 101
11 Gangs in the 1960s : S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders (1967) 115
12 Vietnam and civil rights : Pat Conroy's The Lords of Discipline (1980) 125
13 Prep schools and Watergate : Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War (1974) 139
14 Family disintegration in the 1980s : Walter Dean Myers's Scorpions (1988) 147
15 1960s Los Angeles : Frank Bonham's Durango Street (1965) 157
16 South Central Los Angeles : Kody Scott's Monster (1993) 167
17 Barrio gangs of the 1960s and 1970s : Luis Rodriguez's Always Running, La Vida Loca : Gang Days in L.A. (1993) 173
18 Filipino Americans : Brian Ascalon Roley's American Son (2001) 185
19 Vietnamese gangs and skinheads : Sherry Garland's Shadow of the Dragon (1993) 195
20 Chinese gangs : Dan Mahoney's The Two Chinatowns (2001) 211
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