In the late 20th century and beyond, American social movements advocating equality have increased national attention to issues of exclusion, inclusion, and multiculturalism within communities. As a result, studying the nature of communities—how the term "community" might be defined, who belongs to a given group or social structure, who does not belong, and why—has become increasingly important. American artists have responded by exploring these sites of social, political, and personal change in their works. Separation Anxieties: Representations of Separatist Communities in Late Twentieth Century Fiction and Film analyzes seven fictional works in which some group is philosophically and/or geographically isolated—sometimes by choice, sometimes not—from mainstream America. Each chapter in this study focuses on works that represent and explore a different separatist iteration.
Each work utilizes a different representation of America’s dominant community. Their respective separatist characters distance themselves from dominant American society and create a new community defined by a limited set of characteristics—gender and sexuality, religious beliefs, experience, race. Yet the complexities of American life continually creep into their separatist spheres, complicating the characters’ attempts to belong; these complications often lead to conflicts within, or even to the dissolution of, the separatist communities. In these works, accepting complexities and individual voices is represented as more conducive to communal survival than suppressing alternate ideas and/or dissent. Studying these texts leads to a reconsideration of traditional American myth—the "Union," equality, inalienable rights, the various freedoms that America is supposed to embody—and to a reexamination of why those myths might be rejected, of what kinds of communities might be formed, and of how those communities might succeed and fail. Separation Anxieties is an attempt to engage with and understand narrative constructions and, through them, the real-life ideals, communities, and people recognizable in the representation.