How did the play, "The Melting Pot" inadvertently affect America socially and politically for centuries to come?
Upon its release in the early 1900's, Israel Zangwill's play, "The Melting Pot" had a lasting affect, contributing to the building of the "American Identity." The main subject in question is "How did the play, 'The Melting Pot' inadvertently and quietly affect America socially and politically for centuries to come?" From past U.S. presidents raving about the play and citing it in a national speech to being rebranded and reperformed in the modern day, both on the stage and in real life "The Melting Pot" seeped into American culture and help popularize the term, "melting pot" as describing America. The term "melting pot" and its performance of America fueled America's superiority complex as a self-proclaimed bastion of enlightenment.
Visualizing the American Melting Pot
The play, The Melting Pot by Israel Zangwill quietly changed America and its self image forever. It effectively help build the American identity and fueled America's superiority complex as a self-proclaimed “bastion of enlightenment.” In the play, America’s performance as being a diverse, prejudice-free society, united under the guise of being “American,” can be summed up by one phrase coined by the play: “melting pot.”
The use of the term “melting pot” to describe America has no doubt, been an important phrase in defining America and its culture and politics throughout the 1900s and 2000s. The term, often used today, refers to America as a diverse combination of different people groups who mesh together to form the American identity. This seemingly unimportant term, has effectively established a long-lasting symbol of America and its culture.
The use of the phrase ‘melting pot’ in describing America was first used in Zangwill’s play. “Understand that America is God's Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and re-forming! Here you stand, good folk, think I, when I see them at Ellis Island, here you stand in your fifty groups, your fifty languages, and histories, and your fifty blood hatreds and rivalries. But you won't be long like that, brothers, for these are the fires of God you've come to—these are fires of God. A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians—into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American. It is the Fires of God round His Crucible. There she lies, the great Melting-Pot—Listen! Can't you hear the roaring and the bubbling? There gapes her mouth, the harbor where a thousand mammoth feeders come from the ends of the world to pour in their human freight. Here shall they all unite to build the Republic of Man and the Kingdom of God. Ah, Vera, what is the glory of Rome and Jerusalem where all nations and races come to worship and look back, compared with the glory of America, where all races and nations come to labour and look forward!” Quotes like these throughout the play, birthed the idea of America being represented as a melting pot. From The Melting Pot, America as a melting pot came to represent more than just an assimilated America. It came to represent a novel idea in the history of the world, something unique, an experiment “gone right”—a country in which its home peoples, encompass all people groups, blended together in a large melting pot. Since its initial establishment after The Melting Pot’s premier in 1908, the phrase slowly assimilated into American culture, being cited as far as in Presidential National Addresses and political cartoons. It soon outgrew its humble beginnings, and today very few people who use the term actually know of its origin. Today, over a century later, it is synonymous with America’s unique diversity.
As shown from the graph above there was a sharp rise in the use of the word melting pot in literature and speeches and other written sources, directly after the publication of the play in 1908, owing to “melting pot’s” new-found definition, solidifying its role in American culture. This upward trend continued through the 2000s, with the term being kept relevant majorly by news outlets, as anti-globalist ideologies began to take root in the 1910's to the 1940's to challenge the American "melting pot" values following the large influx of non-white immigrants through Ellis Island.
The phrase “melting pot” encapsulated the way America was performed and portrayed in the play which was one of the first times race and equality was tackled together on a large stage environment. Specifically in the play, America the melting pot was performed as a safe haven for refugees of the minority religion of Judaism in America. The melting pot represented a bastion of enlightenment and a place where liberty and equity are supreme, somewhere where discriminated groups can seek shelter and be mixed into the American ‘melting pot.’ Most importantly, America is performed as a place that ideally would be immune to prejudice. America offered shelter to David Quixano, the man running for his life from injustices taking place halfway across the world. The most impactful delivery point of The Melting Pot in the way it paints its idea of America is when David Quixano marries the daughter of the man who killed his family. For David Quixano this represents America as a place immune to prejudice, a place where old vendettas have no place, where discrimination—even towards the daughter of the man who killed one’s family—did not belong. The melting pot was a place where one could start fresh. In this regard, The Melting Pot performs America as an enlightened society. This diverse, near-utopian society presented in The Melting Pot was revolutionary in its presentation. The message of the play was first, legitimized by President Roosevelt, who watched the play on opening night. He later, went out of his way to give the play rave reviews in its description of America, and reportedly shouting “That's a great play, Mr. Zangwill,” immediately after the final scene. The president’s vocal approval no doubt help push the message of America and the melting pot to the mainstream.