Object of Study, "The Melting Pot," by Israel Zangwill
Unfortunately, at this point in time, I will be unable to experience "The Melting Pot" performance in person; however, I was able to find audiobooks and the play was readily available. I have begun analysis of the play by exploring the background of the author, Israel Zangwill. From his education in London, attending the Jews' Free School as a child and attending the University of London, receiving a B.A. and triple honors. Learning about the background of Zangwill allowed me to analyze the methods in which he writes and the reasoning to write about a Jewish struggle, additionally, being able to examine his motives in discussing such. From there, I went on to look into the reception of his work, "The Melting Pot," and in what way the audience of the 1910's reacted. To my surprise, president Theodore Roosevelt enjoyed it and even gave Zangwill a shoutout. With all this in mind, I began to dissect into the play itself. Throughout the play, the most notable quality of Zangwill’s piece is that he almost seems to make it clear that the distinction between being Jewish and being an "American" has not followed the Melting Pot theory as discussed. “The Melting Pot” and the theory itself illuminate the extent to which the race class division and hierarchy of it.
The video below depicts the common ideas associated with the Melting Pot theory, to elaborate, it discusses the culmination of immigrant ethnicities and cultures into a blended and unified being/idea - and a quality of being "American."
Throughout history, and even more so throughout the Middle Ages, the Jewish population/following had been subjected to antisemitism as a result of the death of Jesus Christ, with the Romans persecuting the population as a result. Fast forward to the 20th century, a time of innovation, revolution, and social change. This time period, more specifically, the Holocaust and World War II gave rise to concepts of whiteness not previously discussed, ranging from the Nazi’s belief in an Aryan race and white supremacy to the belief that the Jewish population of Germany was the many reasons for its descent. While the German population was the minority group, they attempted the genocide of the Jewish population in Europe in a ploy of antisemitism. As seen in the play, The Melting Pot, by Israel Zangwill, the characters in the play seem to be enveloped by their association with being a Jewish immigrant and their role in society, as it plays a major way in which the character is perceived and carries out their actions - through understanding the roles in which ethnic relationships form will we be able to prove antisemitism beliefs instilled in the society.
Within the first act, Zangwill illustrates the Quixano household, there resides Frau, Mendel, and David, a Jewish and immigrant residency and their roles within the household. (Frau is Mendel’s mother and an elder Jewish lady unfamiliar to the English language, Mendel is an older man working as a music teacher, immigrant to the States and accomplished musician, David is Mendel’s nephew, his family fell victim to a pogrom a few years earlier) In my opinion, I believe that this household explains the general depictions of the Jewish population in America, whether the assimilation of American culture conflicts with their lives in their former country. Frau Quixano, an elderly Jewish lady illustrates the reluctance of the Jewish population to assimilate to American culture, as she proves to not change her lifestyle having moved to the United States. Similarly, Mendel Quixano is the middle man as he acts as a second step, somewhat having assimilated to American culture by becoming a self-sufficient music teacher, but still a faithful Jew. Finally, David Quixano, the typical immigrant living the life of aspiration and hope for the American Dream. Depending on the level of which the character expressed their alignment correlated to the ways in which they acted in America. This idea of assimilating is commonly associated to the "melting pot" theory, expressing the melting of cultures and culmination of many different ethnicities into a single idea of being an "American" and through this, the elimination of diversity in America. Some disagree with this view, others think that this is a key element in the unification of America. Samuel Huntington, a political scientist actually supported the concept of the Melting Pot, arguing that the diversity of American would, "threaten to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages," and through this, we were led to believe it to be positive.
Within the play, there are instances at which characters are misconceived, stereotyped, and maltreated all based on their beliefs. The first few pages of the play depict the Quixano family maid, Kathleen, who exhibits the maltreatment aforementioned through her interactions with Frau and Mendel, strong believers of their Jewish faith. Kathleen exclaiming to Mendel (referring to his mother), "Why doesn't she talk English like a Christian?" was a clear indicator that there was a religious difference between the ways in which Kathleen and Frau are portrayed. Initially, Frau and Kathleen get into a disagreement between maintaining the “laws of kashrut,” a Jewish practice of maintaining a diet of mean and dairy separation. Although minimal, I believe this is a clear indication of some sort of division between white cultures, specifically with Frau’s Jewish history and Kathleen’s antisemitic attitude; clearly, this also affects the ways in which Kathleen maintains her relationship with the family. In addition to Frau’s disagreement, claiming to have lived with other Jewish families prior to being hired under the Quixanos, Kathleen uses stereotypical Jewish occupations including, “clothiers,” “pawnbrokers” and “Vaudville actors” in order to defend her case. Kathleen utilized these occupations in order to mock the Quixano faith and her past employment history. She continues to attack Mendel by mocking his religion, as she mocks his Sabbath Day and then proceeds to quit. Her antisemitic actions prove the ethnic worlds oftentimes clashing as a result of religion in addition to the time period given. In many ways, Kathleen represents the German population and its disapproval of the Jewish group, Kathleen being the minority in the house (similarly the German population being a minority at the time) and actively targeting the Jewish group based on religion. To be frank, the fact that Kathleen is a subordinate of Mendel, as he is after all, her boss, one would regularly not display such behaviors unless a lack of respect and a lack of consideration. In addition to Kathleen, Vera and David explain the counterpart personas of Judaism and a correlation to being an American.
Upon introduction, David’s character is on two separate spectrums, as he still relives and practices his Jewish faith correlating to his home country, while maintaining a yearning to become an “American” and renounce his faith - these counterpoints ultimately prevail with David revoking Judaism. David’s actions were all in means of escaping antisemitism and join the “melting pot” of America and joining the ‘new homogenous culture.’ While David did embody the American Dream with his success in America, many immigrants did not share the same acceptance of American society. The discrimination David was attempting to escape was associated with Vera’s initial thoughts on David being Jewish, commenting on how he was particularly polite; thus leading us to believe that Vera was a believer of the stereotypes surrounding Jewish culture.But, when she got to know David better, she ultimately fell for him. Likewise, with Vera’s character, a Russian lady, was stereotyped by David based on her race, David felt the tension as a result of his family’s death and him being a Jewish man. Vera's utter disgust for the Jewish faith was portrayed in her reaction of being called a "Jew," when she claimed, "I, A Jewess! How dare you?"
The reluctance to assimilate was thus countered with an ultimate acceptance to the American Dream, as seen through David’s performance. David’s symphony, “American Symphony” explains the hope immigrants have, the aspirations to make it in American, free of ethnic tension. The prejudice experienced through David’s family’s death is fueled into his symphony and as a result, sheds light on the racial and ethnic beliefs that are tearing our country apart. These beliefs are a toxin plaguing not only our American society but around the world, racism and the concepts of whiteness - whether it is white supremacy/superiority, white nationalism or even white separatism - have become a threat to our fundamental ways of life. The anguish derived from racism and antisemitism result in a disenfranchisement between racial groups, whether it be a minority group from a majority group or vice versa. Although these topics are seldom spoken, we need to take steps toward bettering our America and our planet through discussions, rallies, and more specifically, action through communication. Similar to David Quixano’s “American Symphony,” we should strive to eliminate these words from our vocabulary, a society free of racial divisions and hatred.