Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses

  • Not a critical or scholarly text but a reading text for a seminar

American Dream: First Report

by Joseph Papaleo


Italian immigrant family at turn of 20th century

(3rd wave of American Immigration.)

Instructor's note: Italian-American novelist Joseph Papaleo was born in the Bronx, New York City in 1925. He earned his BA from Sarah Lawrence College, his MA from Columbia University, and his PhD from the University of Florence (Italy).

Italian-American immigration is mostly associated with the Third Wave in the late 1800s-early 1900s. (Waves of American Immigration.)

Discussion question(s): 1. What symbols or codes  are associated with immigration and assimilation? What about the color code?

2. Where in the poem do you see the stages of the immigrant narrative? (objective 2c)

Objective 2c. Stages of the Immigrant Narrative (many variations)

         Stage 1: Leave the Old World (“traditional societies” in Europe, Asia, or Latin America).

         Stage 2: Journey to the New World (here, the USA & modern culture)

         Stage 3: Shock, resistance, exploitation, and discrimination (immigrant experience here overlaps with or resembles the minority experience)

         Stage 4: Assimilation to dominant American culture and loss of ethnic identity (departs or differs from minority experience)

         Stage 5: Rediscovery or reassertion of ethnic identity (usu. only partial)

3. How do different generations react to immigration? What are the ways and costs of assimilation?

American Dream: First Report

First nobody liked us; they said we smelled

and looked too short and dark.

Then the TV proposed marriage, and we said yes.

Momma and sisters kept the commercials going,

to prove we were married in the palaces of soap.                      5


Who would have guessed that the end

of those voyages, the agony of steerage,     [part of passenger ship for those traveling at cheapest rate]

insults from the Yankees, the tenement rooms   [Yankees = English of New England; tenement = slum]

without windows, like fish cans,

the penny pinching fears of the bosses                                     10

would end this way, as well-dressed citizens

devoted to the disinfection of our carpets,

as the culminating dream of Grandpa

(who liked to spit on floors while he talked)?                             14