An American in the Making: The Life Story of an Immigrant

An American in the Making: The Life Story of an Immigrant

An American in the Making: The Life Story of an Immigrant

An American in the Making: The Life Story of an Immigrant

Synopsis

At the turn of the twentieth century, M. E. Ravage set off in steerage for America, one of almost two million Jews who, like millions of others from eastern and southern Europe, were lured by tales of worldly success. Seventeen years after arriving on Ellis Island, Ravage had mastered a new language, found success in college, and engagingly penned in English this vivid account of the ordeals and pleasures of departure and assimilation.

Steven G. Kellman brings Ravage's story to life again in this new edition, providing a brief biography and introduction that place the memoir within historical and literary contexts. An American in the Making contributes to a broader understanding of the global notion of "America" and remains timely, especially in an era when massive immigration, now from Latin America and Asia, challenges ideas of national identity.

Excerpt

When M. E. Ravage published An American in the Making in 1917, the American immigrant memoir was already an established and popular genre. The title of Ravage’s book echoes The Making of an American (1901), Jacob Riis’s redemptive account of how, leaving his native Denmark in 1870 at age twenty, he made his home in the United States. Riis, who overcame humble origins to become the most influential of America’s muckraking journalists, concludes with the memory of a return visit to Denmark, where a mysterious illness confines him to bed. He lies indisposed for days, until the image of Old Glory fluttering on a passing ship outside the window catches his attention. “I sat up in bed and shouted, laughed and cried by turns, waving my handkerchief to the flag out there,” Riis recalls. “They thought I had lost my head, but I told them no, thank God! I had found it, and my heart, too, at last. I knew then that it was my flag; that my children’s home was mine, indeed; that I also had become an American in truth. And I thanked God, and, like unto the man sick of the palsy, arose from my bed and went home, healed.”

Finding home was more complicated for Ravage, who was not nearly as sanguine as Riis about being made an American. “America is good, America is good!” Ravage’s father, Judah, impressed by tales of educational opportunity across the ocean, exclaims in Chapter II. However, when his son actually sets foot in America, the newcomer is disgusted by what he discovers in a New York slum. “I experienced a revulsion of feeling of the most distressful sort,” Ravage reports in Chapter VI. Although An American in the Making made him a famous American immigrant, Ravage would spend much of the rest of his life back in Europe. Death, at eighty-one, came at his home in Grasse, in southeastern France. A contemporary reviewer of An American in the Making, pioneer sociologist Robert E. Park, was struck by its sour notes. While praising Ravage’s work as “a valuable source-book on the subject of the immigrant,” Park also noted that “it is perhaps all the more interesting because it is the story of one who has not as yet been . . .

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