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On the color "Red" from the melting Pot How a character's outlook on the color "red" was transformed. By Henry Ko

Question:

What does the color "red" mean to david? How can this be extended to immigrants of david's time?

Abstract

Colors themselves are powerful methods of delivering a specific theme within performances—especially if they are related throughout a single work. I will be analyzing the color “red” from Israel Zangwill’s 1908 play The Melting Pot to Amongst all the characters, I will be focusing on David’s outlooks upon the specific color—relating it with how his past encounters with the color contrast that of his encounters with it in America. Central to his trauma was the massacre of Kishinev Pogrom where he conjures images of blood of his family and his people being murdered in masses. Despite the fluent usage and emphasis of blood and consequently having “red” as a negative theme, David undergoes transformations of seeing “red” as quite positive the more he interacts with Vera and the more time he spends in America. The primary research material is the written text The Melting Pot by Israel Zangwill especially deriving from excerpts where concepts of “red” emerge. David’s transformative experience can be extrapolated to the significance of immigrants moving into America at the time the play was shown: America was the place for their salvation—where even their most traumatic memories will be cleansed.

Essay

Vera and David sit close together overlooking the vast Western shores. Far away, there is the glaring sun just about to settle over the horizon and David is awestruck with its beauty and conjures up a metaphor of the burning sun to America: that it is the “fires of God round His Crucible.” Vera stares at the setting sun as she gently agrees with David’s words—though not in an earnest manner reflecting that of David’s. David continues on nudging Vera if she can hear the “roaring and the bubbling” of the “melting pot.” The two both sit in awe as they observe the harbor to their east where the gates for thousands of European immigrants entered America—including themselves. David continues on mentioning how multiple races—the Celt and Latin, Slav, Teuton, and more—are merged together in this “melting pot” called “America,” but only mentions countries from European nations. The surrounding atmosphere of David and Vera is invigorating as endless potentials of America is mentioned while people from other nations not from European descent are left isolated. As if to support David and Vera’s notion on the exclusivity of America, the Statue of Liberty is shown amongst the gradually appearing stars in the night sky and the cheerful singing in the distant background. This ending of the play seems to suggest how America has already met its qualifications for it to be considered a “melting pot” and does not need immigrants from other nations as it is already established as a happy place without them. However, despite the play's alienation of immigrants of non-European descent into America, this essay will focus on how significant it was for immigrants to settle in America and the happiness it brought them. The aforementioned scene of Vera and David watching the sunset together will be used as one example.

Prior to his immigration to America, David’s outlook on the color red—or any tint of crimson—only carried hurtful memories of blood and fires of persecution in his homeland. This view, however, is changed significantly to the point where David is cleansed of his fears and traumas associated with the color red due to his ideals toward “America” and with the help of Vera. The Melting Pot, by Israel Zangwill illustrates how many immigrants viewed America.

Prior to any analysis, it is essential to identify any figures or objects which carries the color “red” or implies “redness” in it. Such objects identified throughout the play that will be covered in this essay were blood, fire, and the sunset. Amongst the three objects, fire carries a dualistic role as there are the harm-inflicting fires that were involved in David’s traumatic Kishinev pogrom experience and the fires that fuel what David calls “God’s crucible” which is America. The significance of this dualistic representation of fire will be covered in the following paragraphs. To elaborate on the Kishinev pogrom, it is where David’s family was massacred in front of his very own eyes and which its images and hallucinations haunt him for the duration of the play. As it were the local Russians of Kishinev who inflicted such tragedies upon his family and his people, David has grown up with the notion of fearing Russians and suffering from constant flashbacks to the massacre.

Between the two factors that helped David recover from his traumas—Vera and his ideals of America—Vera’s contribution will be elaborated first. Ironically enough, Vera is a Russian by blood while David is a Jew who has had his most traumatic memory branded by Russians. Though Vera has cut ties with her family members who live in Russian and abide by the Tsar, David is initially appalled by the idea that she is Russian. Upon their first encounter, David cries “No, only the Death-March!... Mother! Father! Ah—cowards, murderers! And you!”(Zangwill, 1908), to Vera as he conjures up memories of his former self in Kishinev who lay beside his deformed sister and murdered mother. However, it was Vera’s sweet and understanding characteristics that eventually led David to fall in love with her. Although Vera is the one whom brings constant memories of his hurtful past, she is the one that David finds comfort in from all the hauntings of his past. This can be seen from the scene where Vera herself willingly conforms to the truth the she is bringing pain to her lover, David, and willingly decides to detach herself from David—for his sake—but David’s responds “cling to me till all these ghosts are exorcised, cling to me till our love triumphs over death” (Zangwill, 1908). And it is this very relationship which comforts David to be one step closer towards forgiving the Russian people for the memories he is left with. If David had married another one from a fellow Jewish descent, he would have forever stuck with his past traumas crawling back to him every time he meets a Russian or even when any mentioning of Russia. By having a person from a race who he is forever expected to hate as his closest being, David is closer to absolving his forever hatred toward the Russians.

Vera is not alone in the journey towards absolving David’s past fears or Russia and the blood, the crimson mist of his traumas: David’s ideals towards what he believes America is played a large role as well. David believes America to be a large “melting pot” where people of all races mix altogether and thrive under a unified nation. He contrasts America to Europe as the latter is a place full of corruption and a lang full of oppression and hatred while America stands against discrimination and is a land for all races to be accepted. This is covered by David in the Act IV finale as himself and Vera observe a sunset while stating how the people of “Celt and Latin, Slav and Teuton, Greek and Syrian…” can all mix within this melting pot.

One point to note is that the races of non-European descents were all grouped to merely be “black” and “yellow” while people of European descent seemed to be the main “ingredient” for America’s “melting pot" as seen in the table on the right(Appendix A of text of The Melting Pot).

Through David’s lens of seeing America, he sees a different symbolism of fire. The fire that he witnessed back home was the burning, menacing fire that ravaged throughout his village and his people—one that instigated hatred and fear. However, the fire that he sees and constantly alludes to in America is the one that is firing and fueling the “melting pot” of America—one that supports acceptance or any race, especially people in flee of menacing fires like he has witnessed. David abides to the idea of such an accepting and supporting fire very much that he decides to use it to symbolize as an object that instigates and fuels “God’s crucible,” which is America. Image 6 shows a possible view of the sunset that David and Vera witnessed—one that is crimson and fierce and looks as if it is burning the entire sky. Such a violent spread of red and images reminding that of flames, yet David is not traumatized one bit and instead looks at the scene with wonder and awe. David’s views of what America’s ideals are allowed him to observe such a violent spread of red—reminding him of flames—with warmth in the heart instead of being haunted by his hurtful past.

At the beginning of the play The Melting Pot, David is seen as a very sensitive character who’s traumas are easily triggered. However, it is with his views toward an accepting-and-mixing-America and with the help of Vera that he overcame his traumas of his homeland and of the color red. Even a fiery sunset he sees, which may trigger David's traumas easily, is seen by him with joy as shown in the Act IV finale. This final scene stands as a cathartic scene for David representing his full transformations to have successfully coped with his traumas through settling in America. Branching from this, David was not the only one who has "healed" through settling in America: many immigrants of the time also reached out to America to escape persecution. America is not a perfect country, but it is one where many have reached--including David--seeking safety and opportunities.

Image 1(Leftmost Top Row): Likely mood of where the jolly singing was done beneath the Statue of Liberty Image 2, 5(Middle Top Row, Right Second Row, respectively): Which mood may be the closest to the sunset that David and Vera were seeing? Image 3(Right Top Row): Mood of a storm. The great contrast it brings with the glaring red. Image 4(Left Second Row): Would this have been close to the harbor David and Vera were seeing? Image 6(Bottom): Fiery sunset. (General Note: All photos taken by Henry Ko, the author of this website, unless otherwise noted.)

Bibliography

Israel, Zangwill. The Melting Pot, The American Jewish Book Company, 1921.

Ireland, Corydon. “The Pogrom That Transformed 20th Century Jewry.” The Harvard Gazette, 9 Apr. 2009, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2009/04/the-pogrom-that-transformed-20th-century-jewry/.