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

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

CHAPTER XVII
In the Mold

I am sure that if the immigrant to America were ever to dream of the things that await him at his journey’s end there would be no need for any laws to keep him out. He would prefer to eat grass and kiss the royal scepter and stay at home. Any man, I suppose, with a drop of vagabond’s blood in his make-up and a family to support will, under the stress of necessity, fold his tent and move on to greener pastures; and no human soul will indefinitely endure the insolence of oppression without flaming into revolt. But there is, on the other hand, a generally accepted limit to the price of bread and freedom beyond which even a hungry and a weary voyager, if he retains a sense of value and of honor, will not go, purely as a matter of principle. One may be willing to submit, with a kind of grim cheerfulness, to train-robbers and steerage pirates, to seasickness and homesickness, to customs officials and—though this is really too much—even to Ellis Island inspectors; and count the whole thing—with the heart-wringing farewells thrown in—as a tolerably fair exchange for the right to live and the means of living. But no one, I insist, would for a moment consider the transaction if he suspected that he must, before he is through, become an American into the bargain. Mortal man is ready for everything except spiritual experiences.

For I hardly need tell you that becoming an American is spiritual adventure of the most volcanic variety. I am not talking of taking out citizen’s papers. It cannot be too often repeated that the shedding of one nationality and the assumption of another is something more than a matter of perfunctory formalities and solemn oaths to a flag and a constitution. Vowing allegiance to the state is one thing. But renouncing your priceless inherited identity and blending your individual soul with the soul of an alien people is quite another affair. And it is this staggering experience of the spirit—this slipping of his ancient ground from under the immigrant’s feet, this commingling of souls toward a new birth— that I have in mind when I speak of becoming an American. To be born

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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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