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John Fante's Ask the Dust and fictions of whiteness.

"I could never become one of them," Arturo Bandini declares at the end of Robert Towne's 2006 film version ofjohn Fante's 1939 novel Ask the Dust. Speaking here of his relationship to mainstream white American culture, Fante's Italian American protagonist proclaims his antiassimilationist sentiments. He will forever be a man of the margins, he insists, faithful to his memories of discrimination by the likes of "Smith and Parker and Jones," while also declaring himself, as a writer, a champion of all those he has come to know who have shared in such experiences. Although the film version strategically repositions these words, moving this speech to the end of the story for emphasis, its sentiments remain in keeping with the critical consensus on the novel. Although he finds the possibility of assimilation alluring for a period, ultimately Arturo "can only align himself against Anglo[s]" (79), as Katherine Kordich concludes, rediscovers his "feral ethnic self," as Kenneth Scambray sees it (119), and, finally, argues Jessica Maucione, "retains [his] Italianness by resisting and overcoming assimilative values and desires" (101). Arturo not only rediscovers "his own status as alien and outsider" (137), as Richard Collins suggests, but also locates himself with others who have experienced exclusion: "he and they would never become insiders, not in Los Angeles, not in California, not in America, not in the world" (139).

Ask the Dust offers considerable support for this widely accepted view of Fante's protagonist. Indeed, Arturo's apparent reconnection with the margins is the emotional crux of his narrative, and is perhaps all the more compelling for its contrast to the earlier moments when he echoes the discriminatory rhetoric once directed at him, reflecting what Donald Weber argues is the ethnic self-hatred that most critics see him overcoming in the end (69-71) (1). In this essay, however, I challenge these readings of the novel and their assessment of Arturo's ethnoracial position in particular. My argument proceeds from two assumptions that differ from the prevailing critical views. First, I contend that Arturo Bandini remains an unreliable narrator even at the end of the novel. Like Nick Carraway's in The Great Gatsby, his contradictions and evasions require careful scrutiny, despite the eloquent culmination of his narrative. Second, I distinguish between Arturo's ethnic feeling and the fact of his shifting ethnoracial and socioeconomic position.To use Thomas Ferraro's phrase, Arturo comes to "feel Italian" at the end of the novel, which in his case means identifying with those who suffer from ethnic or racial discrimination as he once did (2). Yet, such sentiments do not always translate into antihegemonic ideology, and Arturo Bandini provides a case in point for this distinction. Even as he articulates an increasing emotional connection to the margins, his narrative suggests that in fundamental ways he begins to define himself through racial terms that both enable his own assimilation into the mainstream and separate him from the very outsiders of whom he speaks and writes so eloquently.

Thus, contrary to his own claims and the many critics who accept them, I argue that Ask the Dust is less the story of Arturo Bandini's ethnic rediscovery than of his racial refashioning. His tale, in fact, provides a compelling illustration of what Matthew Frye Jacobson calls the "racial alchemy" of the melting pot, whereby certain groups assimilate into the mainstream of American culture by becoming white (7). As several critics have noted, Arturo reflects what whiteness studies scholars have dubbed the "in-between" or "middle-ground" racial status of Italian Americans in the first half of the twentieth century (3). I contend, though, that this middle ground marks only the starting point of Arturo's racial journey in the novel. Beyond the initial efforts to gain acceptance that others have noted, he begins to deeply internalize the idea of his racial whiteness. Yet, in characteristically Fantian fashion, his narrative exposes what he does not admit to himself. It reveals his development of a white consciousness; in the end his outpouring of affection for those on the margins serves as a form of self-deception, protecting him from the knowledge that he has indeed become "one of them."

That Ask the Dust seeks to illuminate the role that race plays in the classic melting-pot story of assimilation is evident early in the novel through its rewriting of the iconic scene of the immigrant's arrival. Although Arturo has come from Boulder, Colorado, to Los Angeles rather than from Italy to the United States, the description of his attempt to gain access to the Alta Loma hotel evokes that primal moment of arrival on American shores. In this case, Arturo, who is not an Italian immigrant but an Italian American migrant, encounters a different kind of gatekeeper than the conventional Ellis Island immigration officer. Mrs. Hargraves, a skeptical hotel manager who "represents the exclusionary practices of the Anglos" (82) subjects him to questioning. As Kordich has noted, Mrs. Hargraves's efforts to determine whether or not he qualifies as acceptable point toward Arturo s middle-ground status, for she cannot easily identify him according to local conceptions of identity (78). Arturo ultimately does gain admission into the Alta Loma, but what is particularly striking is how this process is portrayed. If this scene suggest that the immigrant outsider must be refashioned in order to melt into the pot of American culture, it also illuminates the racial subtext of this transformation. Arturo s admission to the Alta Loma depends upon his consent to the hotel's policies of racial exclusion, and his newly formulated American self represents an extension of this same racial logic.

In fact, Arturo's arrival scene is structured to emphasize his consent to this Faustian bargain. Although Mrs. Hargraves initially resists Arturo, she warms toward him as he adapts to her comments and fashions his self-presentation around her prejudices. In particular, as he makes the case for his own inclusion, Arturo puts to use Mrs. Hargraves's evident prejudice against people of Mexican descent. Like many arriving European immigrants who were quick to define themselves in opposition to a black racial otherness, Arturo here responds to Mrs. Hargraves's question, "Young man ... are you a Mexican?" (48) by strategically distinguishing himself from these victims of segregation. "Me, a Mexican?" Arturo replies with what appears to be a feigned incredulity. "I'm an American," he says, adding, "I'm not a Mexican" (49).That this strategy achieves its goal is evident; as Mrs. Hargraves states the hotel's segregationist policies, Arturo signs the hotel register. "We don't allow Mexicans in this hotel," she says, adding "Nor Jews." Significantly, it is with the very next line that Arturo announces his consent to these practices. In a simple but unmistakably assertive statement, Arturo notes, "I registered" (49).

Juxtaposing Mrs. Hargraves's description of the hotel's segregationist policies with Arturo's act of signing the register suggests that, when he symbolically signs on to these exclusionary practices and the racial world-view that guides them, he is granted admission and thus deemed by her to be "white." Yet, Mrs. Hargraves proceeds to make further demands upon him, suggesting what Fred Gardaphe has argued about Italian American whiteness: that it is a conditional identity. To "remain white," Gardaphe asserts, Italian Americans have been required to adhere to the ideologies and expectations of the dominant culture ("We Weren't Always White" 187). As this scene continues, his signature in the register comes to signify the extreme conditions required of Arturo as well as his willingness to meet them. Disturbed by his elaborate and unconventional signature, as difficult for Mrs. Hargraves to decipher as his ethnicity, she scrutinizes it, "examin[ing] the script, word for word" (49). Again Mrs. Hargraves functions here as an immigration officer, for just as foreign names were often Anglicized, she alters Arturo's name as it appears in the register. Although she does not change the spelling, she rewrites his "script," tracing "carefully over" his writing and translating his self-representation into a more standard print, one she can accommodate more easily. Her act of revision thus signifies her authoring of a new, revised version of his identity and a new cultural "script" that he must follow if he wants to remain in her hotel, a "microcosm of Anglo Los Angeles" (Kordich 74).

Reluctantly, and under threat of expulsion, Arturo also participates actively in this symbolic refiguring of his identity. When Mrs. Hargraves notices that he has written his hometown, Boulder, Colorado, next to his signature, she takes issue with this part of his "script" as well, insisting Boulder is not in Colorado but in Nebraska, and anyone who would claim otherwise does not belong among the "fine ... honest people" (49) of the Alta Lonia. In order to remain, Arturo must thus rewrite this brief note. As with the changing of his signature, this act of revision is one of considerable significance, for the note is a specifically autobiographical gesture, signifying his connection to the place he has come from. Nevertheless, Arturo "scratched out the Colorado and wrote Nebraska over it" (49), a symbolic erasure of his past for which he is rewarded finally with a room in the Alta Loma. In fact, for his willingness to make these changes and adopt her (misinformed) worldview, Mrs. Hargraves is for the first time "very pleased" with Arturo. "Welcome to California," she proclaims, "You'll love it here!" (49).

While I contend that these symbolic acts of consent to racism and self-erasure mark the beginning of Arturo's white self-fashioning, other critics have argued that they represent only a lapse for the protagonist, who ultimately redeems himself. In fact, most discussions treat the novel as a maturation tale (4). They argue that the sort of missteps on display in this scene and elsewhere are later corrected, evincing Arturo's positive transformation. In particular, he is seen as maturing in two key ways. First, critics argue that the two central relationships he develops in the novel provide the counterpoint to his implied pledge to support policies of racial exclusion, for they are with women of Jewish and Mexican descent, the groups that Mrs. Hargraves specifically notes are excluded from the Alta Loma. As he comes to "literally embrace" these women (Collins 137), Arturo is seen as ultimately rebelling against the racist practices and racial logic that he accepts in the arrival scene, thus spurning whiteness as a path to assimilation.

That he also writes stories based on the lives of these two women provides a second important reference to the Alta Loma scene. Often read as a Kunstlerroman, the tale of Arturo's development as a writer certainly begins with a false start at the Alta Loma, where the first words he writes are erased and revised, and the truth of his past is ultimately misrepresented in the register. Thus, when he writes and publishes what he insists are authentic "slice out of life" (146) stories about the marginalized and excluded, based on his experiences with these two women, he is seen as having matured as both a man and an artist and as having completed an arc of development beginning at the Alta Loma (5). As Charles Scruggs maintains, though Arturo begins as a "wise guy," arrogantly pursuing selfish ends at the expense of others, he ends up an "honest man" (240) whose art reflects authentic connections to those on the margins, links that also reconnect him with his own ethnicity and past.

These claims about Arturo's "dramatic transformation" (Scruggs 235) rely particularly heavily on the notion that his perception of Camilla Lopez changes significantly over the course of the novel. Camilla's Mexican American ancestry is crucial to the story of their relationship, for, as in the Alta Loma scene, Arturo constructs his white American self specifically in opposition to the idea of Mexican otherness. Even before Camilla enters the novel, Arturo touts the need to "draw the color line" between white and Mexican after he witnesses a prostitute whom he calls "one of our white girls" with a man he derides as "the Mexican" (23-24) (6). So when he first encounters Camilla, he perceives her as the embodiment of a racial otherness that helps him to imagine his own whiteness. As Kenneth Scambray notes, in describing her Arturo "paints a word picture of the alien" (135). She is a "racial type," Arturo thinks, with "Mayan" features and a "negress' lips" and thus "too strange for me" (34). Expressing these thoughts and taunting her with slurs like "greaser" once directed at him by "Smith and Parker and Jones," he describes the experience in language that suggests his own racial reinvention. "A good feeling rushed through me," Arturo explains; it was "a newness like new skin" (44).

Thus it is a welcome change when Arturo begins to view Camilla more sympathetically and treat her with greater humanity. He stops his cruel assault on her Mexican heritage and he even displays a surprising devotion to her after she suffers a crushing romantic rejection by Sammy Wiggins, an Anglo American bartender. Like Arturo, Camilla strives for acceptance from mainstream American society, and she places all of her hope on the unlikely idea that Sammy will ultimately make her Camilla Wiggins, despite the fact that his anti-Mexican views are even more extreme than those voiced by Arturo. Instead of marrying her, Sammy casts her out of his home in a scene that refigures some of the elements of Arturo's admission into the Alta Lorna, as Sammy tells Arturo, "you can come in ... [b]ut not her" (137). But if Arturo once seemed to derive sadistic pleasure from Camilla's pain, here he comes to her aid, offering support as she begins to psychologically disintegrate. Although Arturo cannot save her--she wanders off into the desert alone, likely to her death--critics argue that through his efforts, he at least saves himself from the moral descent he began when he accepted Mrs. Hargraves's conditions to enter the Alta Loma. Because he appears to be driven by a genuine empathy for Camilla, as in the story he writes about her, critics have given Arturo credit for finally abandoning the racial thinking that is so central to his attempt to define his American self throughout the novel. As Charles Scruggs describes it, Arturo comes to see in the end that the great "gap" he once imagined between himself and Camilla is "less than skin deep" (242).

Yet, even as Arturo expresses his sense of emotional attachment to Camilla, he remains deeply invested in the idea of his own whiteness, an investment that continues to depend on his sense of Camilla's difference from him. Jennifer Guglielmo has argued that, although upon arriving in the US, Italian immigrants were "positioned as white" and thus allowed access to a variety of rights and privileges, their "sense of identity as white took much longer to form" (8). In Ask the Dust, the development of Arturo's white consciousness takes shape in a gradual way, and is marked by moments of doubt and contradiction, often brought to the surface through his exposure to Camilla's struggles. But despite these flashes of resistance to the hegemony of whiteness, Arturo never fully rejects that racial worldview. Though at the end of the novel he no longer expresses his dedication to this logic of race in the bombastic way he does earlier, in his internal monologues he remains committed to the fiction of his racial whiteness. Indeed, his internalization of whiteness survives even his exposure to some of the devastating effects of the racial order on those who suffer from the exclusion that enabled his acceptance.

That Arturo has come to identify himself as white is apparent in an important scene late in the novel when he visits Camilla's apartment for the first time. Excluded from most sections of the city by segregation laws, Camilla lives near Central Avenue, in what Arturo refers to as "the Los Angeles Black Belt" (140). Her apartment and the neighborhood around it thus serve as the counterpoint to the Alta Loma. While his residence at the Alta Loma signifies Arturo's acceptance into whiteness, his trip to her apartment represents his exposure to the living conditions of those who have been excluded: the "pitch blackness" of a back alley where Camilla buys marijuana, the "sick building" where she lives, and her "dirty" disheveled apartment (141). In the face of such conditions, the ever-loquacious narrator finds himself at a loss for words, "speechless" for the first time in the novel. His shock, however, produces not a sense of his own implication in this repressive system, or even a deeper understanding of Camilla's struggles, responses one might expect if the novel, as critics suggest, is to be read as a maturation tale. Rather, Arturo reverts to an essentialist view of Camilla, rationalizing her suffering and disavowing the impact of the structure of oppression in which he participates. Just as he earlier imagined a connection between himself and the "white" prostitute, he now groups Camilla together with other figures he encounters here in a way that reinforces their otherness: "the sinister Negro" who sold drugs, the "hopheads" in the "dark corridor of a Central Avenue hotel," and Camilla, "the girl who loved a man who hated her," were all "of the same cloth," he insists (142). Arturo perceives them all as "part of a hopeless scheme," striving for acceptance by an American culture that would never have them because, unlike him, they would never be seen as white.

Thus, even as Arturo sympathizes with those who have been excluded on account of race, he continues to define himself in opposition to them. While he asserts that he is not "of the same cloth" as Camilla and those in the "black belt," he does make imaginative connections to other characters that reveal just how fully he has internalized a belief in his own whiteness. When Arturo begins to see associations between himself and Sammy Wiggins or Vera Rivken, characters for whom he had earlier expressed distaste, critics like Stephen Cooper have read it as a sign of his maturity as a person and a writer, of his emerging from the cocoon of his fantasy world and recognizing his shared humanity with others (93). For example, Arturo finally comes to believe, after long despising him, that he and Sammy are united by a shared experience in the world. Having contracted a fatal case of tuberculosis, Sammy comes to represent for Arturo the "fate of all" (120). Sammy is a "man like myself," he adds, and in "this city of darkened windows were other millions like him and like me"(120). Likewise, where it was once difficult for him to accommodate Vera Rivken's Jewish heritage (7), Arturo comes to see her also as a symbol for the Californian masses, among whom he counts himself. Hers was "a room like ten million California rooms ... her room, and everybody's room, Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Diego, a few boards of plaster and stucco to keep the sun out" (91).

Even as these connections are described in a language of universality, however, they remain rooted in a racial logic that never extends to include Camilla. Her room is certainly not "everybody's room"; rather, it symbolizes the particular "hopeless scheme" of those confined to the margins. And when Camilla apparently dies at the end of the novel, unlike Sammy's, her death does not represent to Arturo "the fate of all." Rather, he sees it as the counterpoint to the conclusion of his own story. Where she is cast out into the desert, he returns to the city to merge, he claims, indecipherably with the "millions" of the white mainstream. Contrasting himsef with Camilla, he claims "I could feel the whiteness of my face" (117). And ultimately this whiteness allows him to blend in with the others:"I looked at the faces around me," he says, "and I knew mine was like theirs ... tight faces, worried, lost ... the colors draining fast" (160-61).

Although his depiction of himself as one white face among many strongly suggests that at the end of the novel Arturo conceives of himself as assimilated, critics have focused largely on his implied critique of whiteness. To be sure, the shift in Arturo's view of whiteness is notable. Throughout much of the novel, acceptance through whiteness is Arturo's objective. His self-fashioning as white fuels his "gala dream," of achieving wealth and status, and of being accepted into the canon of American literature alongside the likes of Dreiser and Mencken (13). However,although Arturo does publish a novel, the final image of his American dream of success is drastically deflated by his throwing a signed copy "into the desolation" of the desert (165).

In response to the failed promises of whiteness, Arturo turns specifically to his sense of ethnic belonging. But the whiteness of his face has become to him a signifier of ethnicity lost. He sees himself at the end of the novel as one of the "uprooted" (46)--the term he earlier applies to "Smith and Parker and joites," who, like Nathanael West's Angelinos in The Day of the Locust, came to Los Angeles "to die in the sun" (45)-- but he perceives his uprootedness in specifically ethnic terms. Indeed, he comes to see his whiteness as a kind of death, as implied by the "colors" that are "draining fast" from his face.

Fante critics understand this change in perspective as Arturo's realization that his rightful place is on the margins. But in fact his longing for the margins itself reveals just how crucial whiteness has become to his sense of self by the end of the novel: he yearns for ethnic belonging because he imagines he has lost it, and implies that, though he would rid himself of his whiteness, he is fated to a life "white and ghostlike" (65). Moreover, his implication contradicts the conscious acts of racial self-fashioning and overt expressions of consent to the racial order described by his narrative.

Contrary to the many claims that Arturo's clear-sighted and empathetic view of Camilla ultimately signals his emergence as a serious author and an "honest man," Arturo in fact presents a strikingly unreal vision of her. Just as he alters his representation of whiteness without disrupting its logic, he refigures the meaning of Camilla's racial otherness while still defining himself against the racial difference he insists she represents. Although she no longer represents difference as alienating, as when he insisted her "Mayan" features appeared "too strange" for him, she becomes in the end an image of racial difference as a romanticized ideal. Thus he continues to see her primarily as the embodiment of an ethnic category; she is still "Mayan" in his eyes, though, as George Guida has noted, her perceived "Indianness" is refigured in his imagination as a preferable "alternative" or escape from assimilation (137). Such an alternative is not available to him, Arturo insists, but only to Camilla, whom he perceives to be "deeper rooted than I" (123). While he becomes one of the pale anxious faces of the modern American city, he imagines, she cannot be contained in this way, for she would "lay havoc upon any such little prison as this" (142). Instead, she "belonged to the rolling hills, the wide deserts, the high mountains."

This racial romanticism reaches its peak in the final moments of the novel. When Arturo finds that, locked out by Sammy, Camilla has disappeared into the desert, he fills her absence with a fantasy narrative of her "return" (164) to her roots and the place "she belonged" (142). "Let her go back to the loneliness of the intimate hills," Arturo thinks, adding "Let her live with stones and sky, with the wind blowing her hair to the end" (164). Such a vision has little to do with Camilla's tale as it has been conveyed over the course of the novel. There is no evidence that she is from the "hills." Nor does the wind-in-her-hair Indian stereotype accurately describe this woman of Mexican descent, similar to Arturo in many ways, especially in her desire for assimilation. And her departure is certainly not the romantic return he imagines it to be. A response to rejection and racial exclusion, it would be better described as an exile, and in that sense, it serves as an indictment not only of Sammy, who sends her away, but also of Arturo, who not only consents to the racial order at the Alta Loma but remains committed to its logic even after "embracing" Camilla and celebrating her outsider status.

As this final romanticized version of Camilla suggests, by the novel's end Arturo has not become the honest, clear-sighted author that Fante critics have often described. Rather, as the narrator of her tale, and by extension as the author he has become, he is notably unreliable. As I have suggested, this unreliability reflects his self-deception, especially in regard to his claim to whiteness and his consent to the racial order that depends on the oppression of others. In this way, Arturo's narrative exemplifies what whiteness studies scholars see as a crucial characteristic of ethnic assimilation tales as well as the broader historical memory of assimilation. Such narratives often convey a "deeply distorted sense of the past" (12), as Thomas Guglielmo observes, erasing the part that whiteness plays in assimilation, and offering instead a more uplifting tale of acceptance into the mainstream based on hard work and social uplift. As Jennifer Guglielmo notes, the ultimate consequence of these distortions is a "loss of memory [that is] one of the tragedies of racism in America" (1). In Ask the Dust, Arturo's narration exemplifies just such a loss of memory. Although the novel itself reveals the role that race plays in his assimilation, as it illuminates his racial self-fashioning and internalization of whiteness, his own narrative in the end conveniently erases this history that the novel has conveyed. In doing so, Arturo does not ultimately reject whiteness, as critics have claimed. Indeed, he has become quite certain of the "fact" of his whiteness. In constructing his own "deeply distorted" narrative of assimilation, which elides his consent to the racial order, he perpetuates the tragedy of racism in America.


Released sixty-seven years after Fante's novel first appeared, Robert Towne's film adaptation reflects some of the contemporary cultural contradictions about Italian American whiteness that have arisen as a result of the "loss of memory" that the novel exposes. On the one hand,Towne's Arturo makes a more emphatic and emotional claim to the margins than Arturo does in the novel, as I noted in the introduction. Not only has Arturo s proclamation that he could "never become" like "Smith and Parker and Jones" been moved to the very end of the film, and thus presented as the culmination of Arturo s search for self, the claim is made twice and even endorsed by Camilla, who, after discovering part of the speech typed on a piece of paper that Arturo has thrown in the trash, tells him "I think it should definitely be part of the book." (8)Yet, even as Arturo's alleged resistance to whiteness and assimilation is emphasized, it seems false in light of the many ways the film suggests that Arturo is unambiguously white and even presents him as a model of successful assimilation.

Described by reviewers as portraying an interracial romance and reflecting the racial tension between the characters, Towne's film simply assumes Arturo's whiteness and thus neglects the novel's focus on Arturo s racial reinvention (9). Towne's decision to cast Colin Farrell, an Irishman, as Arturo Bandini is certainly noteworthy in this regard. This casting implies that an individual from one European nation is interchangeable with one from another, each blending into a generic whiteness. In fact, coincidentally, in casting Farrell,Towne chose the same actor who in that year was also cast in Terrence Malick's The New World as John Smith, the Anglo American explorer. Thus, at least in terms of casting, Bandini has indeed become "one of them," interchangeable not just with a Farrell but also with a Smith. Moreover, if Towne was simply practicing blind casting when he selected Farrell, eliminating issues of race or ethnicity from the process, he chose not to do so for the part of Camilla; he has explained that he felt strongly that she must be played by someone of Mexican descent, ultimately finding Salma Hayek (who is of Mexican and Lebanese heritage) for the role (The Making of Ask the Dust).

Arturo's whiteness is reinforced in other key ways within the film. Perhaps most striking are the changes to Arturo's relationship with Camilla as well as her perception of him. In the novel, she vigilantly rejects Arturo's claims to whiteness. Not only does she reply to his slurs by calling him "Dago" (62) and claiming that he is "dark like Eyetalians" (122), but even when she expresses affection for him, she suggests he is insufficiently white. She contrasts him with Sammy and wishes "[i]f you were only him" (135). Indeed, it is "the American Sammy," the "bartender with the white face," who remains the object of Camilla's desire even though he rejects her repeatedly and with devastating effects in the end ("Prologue" 145; Ask the Dust 62). In the film, however, Arturo shifts into the position held by Sammy in the novel and becomes the desirable insider whom Camilla ultimately hopes to marry. Most strikingly Camilla even calls Arturo a "white guy" in one key scene, as she declares her fear that she will be seen as "some Mexican" on a date with him. But Towne's Arturo proves to be a kinder, more empathetic "white guy" than Sammy, for Arturo is shown to be sensitive to Camilla's position as an outsider and even strives to help her to achieve assimilation also. Not only does Arturo propose marriage (and Camilla accepts, though she dies of tuberculosis almost immediately thereafter), but he also urges Camilla to take a citizenship exam (since this version of Camilla is not a US citizen). Indeed, he takes on the role of mentor, helping her prepare for the exam, teaching her to read English and quizzing her about US history and its founding documents. "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of...?" he asks twice near the end of the film.

Thus,Towne's film not only accepts Arturo's whiteness as an assumption, it also reinforces the myth of the melting pot that the novel critiques. Here Arturo serves as a model of assimilation for others like Camilla seeking acceptance in American culture.Yet, by implying that studying cultural practices and beliefs or memorizing lines from founding documents will lead to a smooth assimilation, the film endorses the myth of the melting pot the novel interrogates. It takes much more than just acquiring certain knowledge or skills, of course, for Arturo to be accepted as American. He does this by becoming a white guy--that is, by internalizing fictions of race and consenting to the exclusion of others based on those fictions. As I have argued, though, Arturo conveniently forgets and disavows this unpleasant history. Such historical forgetting is epitomized by Towne's film, for in portraying Arturo as a model of successful assimilation, the film effectively erases the troubling assimilation story told in the novel, the tale of how Arturo Bandini became "one of them."

Works cited

Ask the Dust. Dir. Robert Towne. Perf. Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek. 2006. Barrett, James R., and David Roediger. "Inbetween Peoples: Race, Nationality, and the New Immigrant Working Class ."Journal of American Ethnic History 16.3 (Spring 1997): 3-47.

Belluscio, Steven J. To Be Suddenly White: Literary Realism and Racial Passing. U of Missouri P, 2005.

Bona, Mary Jo. "Introduction: Italianita in 2003:The State of Italian American Literature." MELUS 28.3 (Autumn 2003): 3-12.

Collins, Richard. John Fante: A Literary Portrait. Toronto: Guernica, 2000.

Colvert, Colin." Ask the Dust Evokes Distant Era." Star Tribune (Minneapolis) 17 March 2006:11F.

Cooper, Stephen. "John Fante's Eternal City." Los Angeles in Fiction: A Collection of Essays. Ed. David Fine. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1995. 83-99.

Di Donato, Pietro. Christ in Concrete. 1939. New York: New American Library, 1993.

Fante, John. Ask the Dust. 1939. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow, 1997.

--."Prologue to Ask the Dust'' The Big Hunger: Stories 1932-1959.Ed. Stephen Cooper. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow, 1997. 143--62.

Ferraro, Thomas J. Feeling Italiair. The Art of Ethnicity in America. New York: New York UP, 2005.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. 1925. New York: Simon, 1995.

Gardaphe, Fred. "We Weren't Always White: Race and Ethnicity in Italian American Literature." Literature. Interpretation Theory 13 (2002): 185--99.

Guglielmo, Jennifer. "White Lies, Dark Truths." Are Italians White? How Race Is Made in America. Ed. Jennifer Guglielmo and Salvatore Salerno. New York: Routledge, 2003. 1-14.

Guglielmo, Thomas A. '"No Color Barrier': Italians, Race, and Power in the United States." Are Italians White? How Race Is Made in America. Ed. Jennifer Guglielmo and Salvatore Salerno. New York: Routledge, 2003.29-43.

--. White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890--1945. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003.

Guida, George. "In Imagination of the Past: Fante's Ask the Dust as Italian American Modernism. "John Fante: A Critical Gathering. Ed. Stephen Cooper and David Fine. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1999. 131-44.

Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1998.

Kordich, Katherine J. John Fante. Chapel Hill: Twayne, 2000.

Maucione, Jessica. "John Fante's Kiinstlerroman" Quaderni del '900 6 (2006): 101-15.

Rainer, Peter. "Dust Settles in Bygone L.A." Christian Science .Monitor 10 March 2006: 14.

Scambray, Kenneth. Queen Califia's Paradise: California and the Italian American Novel. Cranbury: Rosemont, 2007.

Scruggs, Charles. '"Oh for a Mexican Girl!': The Limits of Literature in John Fante's Ask The Dust. " Western American Literature 38.3 (Fall 2003): 228-45.

Stanbrook, Alan. "DVDs Out This Week." Sunday Telegraph (London) 1 October 2006: 33.

The Making of Ask. the Dust Featurette. Dir. Robert Towne. Perf. Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek. 2006.

The New World. Dir. Terrence Malick. Perf. Colin Farrell and Q'orianka Kilcher. 2005.

Weber, Donald. "'Oh God, These Italians!': Shame and Self-Hatred in the Early Fiction of John Fante." John Fante: A Critical Gathering. Ed. Stephen Cooper and David Fine. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1999. 65-76.

West, Nathanael. The Day of the Locust. 1939. New York: Signet, 1983.

Westbrook, Bruce. "Out of the Dust: Salma Hayek Approaches All Aspects of Her Life with Intensity." The Houston Chronicle 18 March 2006: 3.


(1.) Weber does not consider whether Arturo ultimately overcomes this self-hatred in the novel. However, his analysis shares with the critical consensus a special emphasis on the interior monologue where Arturo declares, "I could never become one of them," which Weber quotes at length and describes as "among the most moving and honest passages in all of Fante" (70).

(2.) In Ferraro's ten case studies of Italian American creative expressions, what it means to "feel Italian" varies from one work to another, including such disparate examples as Pietro Di Donato's rugged laborer protagonist of Christ in Concrete to Frank Sinatra's street-corner tough-guy ethos.

(3.) See Jacobson 62; Roediger and Barrett 8-9; Gardaphe, "We Weren't Always White'' 198; and Bona 7 for their comments on the "middle ground" or "in-between" racial status of Italian Americans. Although he does not address Fante's work specifically, Steven J. Belluscio notes that Italian American literature in the first half of the twentieth century "unavoidably narrates the circumstances of racial in-betweenness" (7).

(4.) See Cooper 92-93, Collins 129-30, Scruggs 235-41, and Maucione 109-10.

(5.) Although it is Vera Rivken's tale that Arturo calls a "slice out of life," he also describes Camilla in language that implies his ability to authentically reflect her lived experiences in his writing: her face itself is described as a "manuscript" (139) and he claims that "[e]verything I wanted to know was written in tortured phrases across [it]" (156).Thus he suggests that he is merely recording her unvoiced experience as it is directly expressed on her face.

(6.) Arturo later uses similar language to describe Camilla, referring to her as "[t]his Mexican" (106) in his interior monologue and even once directly addressing her as "Mexican" (107) instead of using her name.

(7.) For example, when Vera first unexpectedly visits him at the Alta Loma, he notes that he "didn't want Mrs. Hargraves to see me with this woman" (81).

(8.) Early in the novel, Arturo's comment that he "could never become one of them" (46) is not spoken aloud, so Camilla never hears it; rather, it appears as part of an internal monologue.

(9.) See Colvert, Stanbrook, Westbrook, and Rainer.
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Author:Elliott, Matthew
Publication:Twentieth Century Literature
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Dec 22, 2010
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