Psychology and Comparative Literature | Timothy Dwight College

Karen Yao
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Senior Essay Title: "Tattered Soles and Trapped Rabbits: Comparing Portrayals of Documented and Undocumented Immigrants in Contemporary Children’s Picture Books"

Adviser: Katie Trumpener

Abstract: My senior thesis for the Comparative Literature major compares depictions of documented and undocumented immigrants in contemporary children’s picture books. This essay not only highlights harmful messages transmitted to children but also reflects biases present in broader society. Given the increasing importance of immigration to U.S. society and the present dearth of literary scholarship on the topic, this work is relevant and urgent.

In the essay, after providing background on the field, I demonstrate how the books diverge in their depictions of documented and undocumented immigrants. Close readings of the textual and visual strategies in the books show that they utilize objects and animals differently. In books featuring documented immigrants, objects and animals represent sites of connection that help the immigrant assimilate to American society. In those portraying undocumented immigrants, objects and animals embody the immigrants, showing how they are dehumanized in the political system. While individually well-intentioned, the distinction between the depictions creates a binary between documented and undocumented immigrants. This dichotomy subtly perpetuates prejudice in favor of “human American citizens” and against “inhuman Non- Americans.” Closely examining these texts individually as well as in interaction with each other allows the literary world to check and redirect itself.