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

By M. E. Ravage; Steven G. Kellman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
“How Do You Like America?”

No, my first impression of America was right, and no mistake. With every day that passed I became more and more overwhelmed at the degeneration of my fellow-countrymen in this new home of theirs. Even their names had become emasculated and devoid of either character or meaning. Mordecai—a name full of romantic association—had been changed to the insipid monosyllable Max. Rebecca—mother of the race—was in America Becky. Samuel had been shorn to Sam, Abraham to Abe, Israel to Izzy. The surprising dearth of the precious words betrayed a most lamentable lack of imagination. Whole battalions of people were called Joe; the Harrys alone could have repopulated Vaslui; and of Morrises there was no end. With the women-folks matters went even worse. It did not seem to matter at all what one had been called at home. The first step toward Americanization was to fall into one or the other of the two great tribes of Rosies and Annies.

This distressing transformation, I discovered before long, went very much deeper than occupation and the externals of fashion. It pervaded every chamber of their life. Cut adrift suddenly from their ancient moorings, they were floundering in a sort of moral void. Good manners and good conduct, reverence and religion, had all gone by the board, and the reason was that these things were not American. A grossness of behavior, a loudness of speech, a certain repellent “American” smartness in intercourse, were thought necessary, if one did not want to be taken for a greenhorn or a boor. The ancient racial respect for elders had completely disappeared. Everybody was alike addressed as “thou” and “say”; and the worst of it was that when one contemplated American old age one was compelled to admit that there was a good deal of justification for slighting it. It had forfeited its claim to deference because it had thrown away its dignity. Tottering grandfathers, with one foot in the grave, had snipped off their white beards and laid aside their skull-caps and their snuff-boxes and paraded around

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Chronology ix
  • Introduction xiii
  • A Note on the Text xxxiii
  • Contents 5
  • Introduction 7
  • Part One - The Alien at Home 11
  • Chapter I - The Prophet from America 13
  • Chapter II - The Gospel of New York 20
  • Chapter III - The Exodus 27
  • Chapter IV - To America on Foot 31
  • Chapter V - Farewell Forever 38
  • Part Two - The Alien Abroad 45
  • Chapter VI - First Impressions 47
  • Chapter VII - The Immigrant’s America 53
  • Chapter VIII - "How Do You like America?" 58
  • Chapter IX - Ventures and Adventures 66
  • Chapter X - Purifications 78
  • Chapter XI - The Ethics of the Bar 86
  • Part Three - The Education of an American 93
  • Chapter XII - Shirts and Philosophy 95
  • Chapter XIII - The Soul of the Ghetto 104
  • Chapter XIV - The Tragedy of Readjustment 110
  • Chapter XV - The Trials of Scholarship 118
  • Chapter XVI - Off to College 126
  • Part Four - America of the Americans 133
  • Chapter XVII - In the Mold 135
  • Chapter XVIII - The American as He Is 143
  • Chapter XIX - The Fruits of Solitude 151
  • Chapter XX - Harvey 159
  • Chapter XXI - The Romance of Readjustment 168
  • Part Five - Postscript- Twenty Years Later 175
  • Chapter XXII - Jeanne’s Sentimental Pilgrimage 177
  • Chapter XXIII - And My Own 189
  • About the Editor 213
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