Novels written from and about the borderlands go against the grain of the normative binary narrative of American race relations. While “race” in the American social and cultural context has traditionally referred to the social and legal patterns of hierarchy and domination characterizing the relations between groups of blacks and whites, the borderlands novel posits a different racial narrative. The multiracial realities characteristic of the borderlands create social structures and discourses articulating a dialogical narrative of American social life based on multiplicity, heterogeneity, and difference. Individual and national identity is created, as Charles Taylor argues, dialogically, in response to and against others. In a multiracial context the effects of this dialogical pattern are correspondingly complex, far-reaching, and unpredictable. The formal implications of this thematic and discursive difference are not self-evident, nor have they been a part of the traditional history of the American novel. Thus, even in eras when race in American discourse meant only “black” and “white,” the presence in the borderlands of Native, Latino, and Asian people required the development of different discourses to articulate the heterogeneous complexities of individual and national identity. One consequence of the disruption of binary racial thinking in the borderlands novel is a need for different hermeneutical procedures in our understanding of its themes and forms.
Another salient characteristic of American borderlands novels that follows from their discursive heterogeneity concerns the racial pattern of hierarchy and domination – evident and explicit in some texts, dispersed and implicit in others. Structures of hierarchy and domination are never represented in the borderlands novel as simply the effects of singular social, legal, or economic conditions.