[In this scene from the novel, the protagonist Sara has moved out of the household of her Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. Her sister introduces her to a recent immigrant, Max Goldstein, who visits her in her tenement room.]
Questions to keep in mind:
How does Max's story exemplify "the American Dream?"
How closely does the American Dream line up with the standard immigrant story?
With a swift glance he took in everything in my room. "Your sister was making excuses for the way you live. I think more of you for standing on your own feet. I lived worse when I ran away from home. You and I are so much alike, because I, too, wanted to make my own way in the world. And you remind me of my own beginning."
That man could wake the dead from their graves. Where was my discouragement now? My eyes could only follow his eyes. His slender body was all joyous youth. Full red lips. His hands and feet like wired electricity. I felt I'd be afraid to touch even the tips of his fingers for fear I'd get shocks.
"Tell me about your running away." I edged my chair nearer to him, in my excited eagerness.
His face kindled with pleasure. It was like inviting him to a feast to ask him to talk about himself.
"I still see that first day when I got off the ship with my little bundle on my back. I was almost lost in the blowing snow of a freezing blizzard. Then I came upon a gang of men clearing the street with great shovels. At once, I saw that these men must be paid for their work. So I pushed myself in among them and begged for a shovel. The big, fat foreman looked down on the poor little greenhorn, wondering should he take pity on me. But before waiting for an answer, I snatched up a shovel from the stack and dug into the snow. At the end of that day, when I was paid a dollar, I felt the riches of all America in my hand. . . .
"This first money, I had to pay down for a week's lodging. The next day, there was no more snow shovelling. I was hungry. I had to get work, and I didn't know where. I just walked the streets, searching people's faces, driven by hunger. Then I saw an old man struggling with his pushcart over the frozen snow. I rushed up to him, begging him with my eyes and my hands to let me help him. So he gave me the job to drive his pushcart and holler for him, 'Pay cash clothes."'
"How could you manage the English words that first day ?" I asked.
A humorous twinkle leaped into Max's eyes. "That man knew as much about English as I. What I hollered was, 'Pay cats coals.' But my boss couldn't tell the difference. To me it was only singing a song. I didn't understand the words, but my voice was like dynamite, thundering out into the air all that was in my young heart, alone in a big city."
rest of the story flowed on like magic. At the end of the week he
was in business for himself. He cried the streets, "Pay cats
coals," without even a pushcart. From all the windows, people began to look
with wonder at the strange greenhorn singer. Every day he came back to his
lodging loaded full . . . .
[In subsequent paragraphs Max tells of his rise to owning his own store and a chain of stores.]
Application / Questions to upcoming readings in Classic Slave Narratives
1. How does the immigrant narrative parallel
or correspond to the “American Dream” story? 2. How does the minority narrative
(exemplified by slave narrative of Equiano) differ from the immigrant narrative? 3. What kinds of attitudes does Douglass
meet in immigrant peoples in Baltimore or other cities? What conflicts rise
between immigrants and minorities?
1. How does the immigrant narrative parallel or correspond to the “American Dream” story?
2. How does the minority narrative (exemplified by slave narrative of Equiano) differ from the immigrant narrative?
3. What kinds of attitudes does Douglass meet in immigrant peoples in Baltimore or other cities? What conflicts rise between immigrants and minorities?