American Studies ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 6-24-1971

Abstract

Both native-born and foreign-born Americans throughout the twen­tieth century have written about the European immigrants who came to American shores between 1870 and 1925. Many of the social science accounts and fiction works about these newcomers centered on one im­plicit question: How could these immigrants become Americans? Two views of assimilation into American society are presented in this study: Henry Pratt Fairchild's static definition of the goal of Ameri­canization and Jane Addams' dynamic definition of American cultural growth. Rejecting Fairchild's view that immigrants must lose all traces of their foreign origin in order to become real Americans, this study adopts Addams' belief that the majority of immigrants could only be­come Americans if one sees both the native- and foreign-born growing toward each other into one culture.

This collation of the portraits of the various ethnic groups of immigrants as they appear in fiction, social science writings, and auto­biographies attempts to determine whether the immigrants' personal and cultural characteristics, motivations for immigration, and interactions with American communities are presented as similar in each genre. The major areas of discussion are: how immigrants have been perceived, how they have viewed the American people and institutions, how they have adjusted to and been assimilated into American life, how Americans reacted to the European immigrants, and how the immigrants have contributed to American life. The viewpoint of the longer established Americans is examined in terms of ethnic stereotypes and predictions of American cultural change. The immigrants' viewpoint concentrates on their hopes, experi­ences, and achievements in their adopted country.

Purposely eclectic in materials and with juxtaposed views and sources, this research, in the areas examined, tries to expose immigrant stereotypes, define the spectrum of American favor and disfavor toward immigrants, examine the process of assimilation, recognize the impact of mass immigration upon American society, interpret the meaning of immigration for the immigrants as well as for the receiving culture, and determine the areas of immigrant-American research still unexplored. Evaluations of the sources used point out misleading features in social science data; the unique experiences in autobiographies; and irony, tone, and point of view in fiction.

Certain conclusions emerge from this research. First, Americans as well as immigrants were not uniform in their observations and reactions to11ard each other. Among Americans, it was not the genre of literary expression used that determined what kind of picture the writers painted of immigrants but the previous attitudes and experiences with which they approached their writing. Among immigrant writers, their ethnic group made little difference in their vie-w· of and reaction toward America and her people; factors like their location of settlement in the United States, their formal education in Europe and America, their financial status, and the frequency of contact with Americans more readily deter­mined their judgments about America's people. Second, Americans tended to be alike in their general disposition toward immigrants, while immigrants appeared to have similar experiences as a result of their decision to immigrate. Americans generally ranged in attitude from benevolent paternalism toward immigrants to downright insistence that immigrants conform to the American cultural status quo. Immigrants were alike in the phases of their immigration experience. By and large, they were motivated to come to America because of their hope for a better life, defined in personal terms. They all seemed to experience a trying period of adjustment and survival. And, lastly, they evolved into a new cultural type of individual, peculiar to immigrants--a hybrid between their old world and new world cultures.

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree

Doctoral

Department Name

American Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

Robert E. Fleming

Second Committee Member

Ferenc M. Szasz

Third Committee Member

Jacob Jerome Brody

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