Loading

The Whiteness that never was: An analysis of conformity culture in America By Maxine Moss

How is snowfall used to symbolize the oppressive nature of assimilation in The Melting Pot?

Abstract

I will be analyzing how Israel Zangwill uses the depiction of snow in The Melting Pot to symbolize the oppressive nature of assimilation in America. I will be focusing specifically on pages 76 and 77, which contain descriptions of the "divine white snow...getting thicker", and Vera stating "I haven't fallen from heaven like the snow." Snowflakes fall to the ground with distinct physical characteristics. Despite their initial uniqueness, their arrival on land amidst an abundance of other snowflakes makes the individual snowflakes indistinguishable from the mass of other snowflakes. This emulates the multiculturalist nature of immigrants arriving in America. However, the nationalist, Anglo-Saxan centered persona of America masks the distinct cultures and ethnicities of immigrants, and conveyed the idea that a likeness amongst individuals will enhance the efficiency of a nation through pride and mutual respect. The concept of the melting pot of cultures parallels the forcibly unified nature of compact snow. To further my analysis, I will pinpoint specifically how immigrants were forced to assimilate through examples such as the mission system and jewish assimilation into “whiteness.” The melting pot extends the mythos that individual cultures can thrive by comprehensively contributing to a new, unified, “better” culture, however this American culture was completely molded and determined by the Anglo-Saxan Americans in power.

Despite the diversity amongst individuals in America, people are forced to abide by the the American nationalist culture defined by Anglo-Saxan Americans (Adobe Spark Images).

Essay

In The Melting Pot, snowfall is used to emulate the nature of assimilation in America. Snowflakes and immigrants alike have unique and distinct qualities. However, upon entrance into a society consisting of many other snowflakes, or many other immigrants, their once distinctive qualities are masked. This is not to say that Americans endorsed a sense of racial color blindness. However, those that fit certain qualifications, such as having light skin, were enveloped under the general identity of being white. In fact, it is America's over attentiveness and obsession with race when it comes to assimilation that has allowed for such a divide amongst people of different skin colors.

No individual qualities of a snowflake are identifiable, but instead the snowflakes collectively evolve into a new, unified apparatus (Adobe Spark Images).

Snow may appear calm and comforting to the eyes, however when placed into a snowy environment, it is often bitter and unsettling. The sheer whiteness created by a mass field of snow can be blinding and intimidating. When packed together in large quantities, the once delicate and graceful snowflakes become a seemingly threatening and unbreakable force. This idea of unique elements flocking together to create a tribal like, unified force pertains to the concept of immigrants blending in and conforming to the nationalist American culture. The blinding phenomena of the snow’s whiteness correlates with the melting pot meshing the identities of immigrants from a variety of backgrounds. As immigrants rushed to America with the understanding they were destined towards a nation of hope and prosperity, they were often blinded to the America's performance of abusive and discriminatory nationalism. This same uncertainty can be represented by the falling of snow, as it curates a hazy and mystified atmosphere prior to reaching the ground. The symbolism of snowfall in The Melting Pot represents the performance of America as the fusion of snowflakes into a unified mass of snow parallels the forced conformity of immigrants into the nationalist Anglo-Saxan culture of America.

The purity and everlastingness of the trail of snow curates a hazy and blinding phenomena (Adobe Spark image).

In The Melting Pot, the tribal like nature of “whiteness” is used to express the willingness of immigrants to conform to an identity in hopes of attaining personal fulfillment. Just like snowflakes are distinct shapes and sizes, individuals immigrate to America with diverse identities. However, the eventual compact mass of snow disguises the unique individual components that contribute to it. The tribal persona of America is rooted in the nationalistic views of Manifest Destiny, which advocated for a god granted expedition to “administer government amongst savages” (Manifest Destiny and the Pacific, Clarke, 15). The Melting Pot magnifies the extent to which America represents philosopher Emile Durkheim’s idea of mechanical solidarity, in which people assume that a likeness amongst individuals will enhance the efficiency of a nation through pride and mutual respect. While it is critical to examine the roots of assimilation and the melting pot in America, there are also widespread implications of these phenomena today. In Managing the Organizational Melting Pot: Dilemmas of Workplace Diversity, Dr. Pushkala Prasad, Albert J. Mills, Michael B. Elmes, and Anshuman Prasad expose the underdeveloped research into the lack of workplace diversity in America. As addressed by a peer's presentation in lecture, a major problem in the way of improving pluralism and diversity in American institutions is the over attentiveness to the flaws in our country as opposed to how society can work to improve them. The authors of Managing the Organizational Melting Pot: Dilemmas of Workplace Diversity propose a solution to this issue by advocating for the "active recognition and appreciation of the increasingly multicultural nature of contemporary organizations" (Prasad et al., 8).

The Mexican-American war was initiated by President James K. Polk's belief that the United States had a “manifest destiny” to spread across the continent to the Pacific Ocean (history.com).
The mythos of Manifest Destiny "allows truly dark, violent, disturbing impulses to occasionally rise to the surface through these classic American hero characters" (sequart.org).

Manifest Destiny Photo: https://www.britannica.com/event/Manifest-Destiny

The melting pot metaphor describes how through the process of assimilating immigrants into American culture, their diverse ways of life mold together to create a homogeneous American creed (https://classracegender.wordpress.com).

As a result of the melting pot of cultures, the idea of “whiteness” ultimately lost significance. With such varying qualifications of what classifies an individual as white, the subject of this socially constructed race is ultimately no subject at all. In Richard Dyer’s White, he classifies whiteness as “a kind of death” (Dyer, 45), in which “class, gender, heterosexuality, and nationality” are colonized in order to pursue a feeling of unity. This idea is expressed in The Melting Pot through David’s disregard for Mendel’s doubts regarding religious tolerance, to which David responds “What understanding? Aren’t we both Americans?” (Zangwill, 85). In essence, by conforming to a white identity, individuals agree to accept their unique qualities as insignificant to their identity. Whiteness masks previous identities in hopes of attaining unity and pride in the American Dream, a mindset implemented at the appeasement of Anglo-Protestants. This is troublesome, however, when considering the vast amount of people who do not fit the pre determined criteria of what it means to be truly American. The tribal like nature of whiteness allows for it to be “everything and nothing” (Dyer, 45) simultaneously. While Anglo-Saxan Americans played a decisive role in determining the “definition of normal” (Dyer, 45), compliance to American ideals causes whiteness to disappear and disintegrate into other identities. Whiteness is ironic in the sense that the power derived from it thrives off a cloak of invisibility. African Americans’ identity acts in stark contrast to this. They are often “marked as black (are not just ‘people’)” (Dyer, 46) in discussion. The idea that “God is making the American” (Zangwill, 81) and that to be American is to be a “fusion of all the races” (Zangwill, 81) reveals that “whiteness” is nothing more than a social construct in constant fluctuation.

Whiteness is "everything and nothing" (Adobe Spark image).

Many works of art and literature portray assimilation as an advantageous process of disregarding past differences to construct a country where all people can begin anew and thrive.

Irish immigrants were optimistic upon their voyage to "the promised land" (irishtimes.com).
The abusive treatment of the Native Americans by the Spanish, hidden by modern education on the mission system, is symbolic of the conformity culture individuals in America were forced to concede to (images from latimes.com and metroacitve.com).

As expressed in The Melting Pot, America is the “heart of the Crucible, where the roaring fires of God are fusing our race with all the others” (Zangwill, 111). While David, a Jewish immigrant, contemplates the feasibility of the melting pot and whether success and a sense of belonging are worth disregarding his sincere beliefs and values, he keeps “faith with America” because he has “faith that America will keep faith with us” (Zangwill, 112). David’s belief that America has the power to have “all unite to build the Republican of Man and the Kingdom of God” (Zangwill, 156) and ultimately bring together a “Jew and Gentile” (Zangwill, 156) in marriage highlights the promising benefits of assimilation. This is mirrored by the way “the snow is getting thicker...pitilessly it falls-like fate” (Zangwill, 76). Just as reaching the ground is fate for each snowflake, immigrants viewed reaching America as an essential for attaining prosperity and success. David’s optimism in describing “the divine white snow” (Zangwill, 77) is symbolic of the mindset of many immigrants that by conforming to the American ideal of whiteness, they would be immersing themselves into a superior population of individuals. By defining America as a melting pot, Zangwill portrays that by conforming to a certain standard, all people can seek acceptance and security. The ideology behind this is that by melting everyone’s cultures into one, no one is surrendering to a dominant group of people, but instead creating a new and enriched population.

Manifest Destiny Photo: https://www.britannica.com/event/Manifest-Destiny

America consists of a wide range of ethnicities and religions, despite what the American ideal presents itself as both domestically and internationally (medium.com).

America is “the great Melting Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming!” (Zangwill, 81). Because of this, “the real American has not yet arrived” (Zangwill, 81). This concept of the American being a “fusion of all the races” (Zangwill, 81) ironically removes the sense of clarity and individual fulfillment that immigrants flocked to America in search of.

Israel Zangwill's use of snowfall in The Melting Pot symbolizes the forceful nature of assimilation in America. Both immigrants and snowflakes alike originate with distinct characteristics influenced by their unique experiences. However, the significance of those characteristics fades when immersed into a large group. The Anglo-Saxan focused persona of America masks the distinct cultures and ethnicities of the immigrants populating America. The melting pot metaphor used to convey assimilation in America parallels the unified structure of snow once on the ground. The melting pot represents the false idea that a variety of cultures are guaranteed to thrive by conforming to a new American culture.

Immigrants entered America with the hopes of a better life for themselves and their families. (bushcenter.org).

bibliography

Dyer, R. (2017). White: twentieth anniversary edition. Abingdon: Routledge.

Zangwill, I. (2012). The melting pot: works of Israel Zangwill. Hamburg: Tredition Classics.

Clark, Dan E. (2017). Manifest Destiny and the Pacific. Pacific Historical Review, University of California Press.

Prasad, P. (1997). Managing the organizational melting pot: dilemmas of workplace diversity. London: SAGE.

Reflection

Created By
Maxine Moss
Appreciate

Credits:

Created with images by Mandy Beerley - "untitled image" • Julian Paul - "Santorini Stair Cases" • Lau keith - "2016.10.03" • AP x 90 - "The Curious Man" • Paola Aguilar - "untitled image" • Mark Rabe - "Lamp post with new snowfall" • Ant Rozetsky - "Snow mountain in Russia" • Filip Bunkens - "untitled image" • Fabian Mardi - "Winter Wonderland in Shirakawa, Japan"