Jews Without Money is based on its author’s own childhood. It re-creates the Jewish immigrant Lower East Side in Manhattan in which he lived, and it provides insight into the life of first-and second-generation Jewish Americans around the turn of the twentieth century.
As the central character and narrator, Mike grows; he learns more and more about the struggles that his parents and their neighbors undergo to earn a living. Mike’s father had been a housepainter, but he is disabled by a fall and by lead poisoning. At one point in the book, Mike finds him trying to earn money selling half-rotten bananas. Mike’s mother is the central figure in the family; she supports them by working in a cafeteria. After and before work, she takes care of her husband and children. On a terribly snowy winter day, Mike’s younger sister, Esther, goes out into the streets to collect wood for the stove; she is run over by a truck and dies. A lawyer comes to their home and says that if the mother and father will sign a paper, he will get them a thousand dollars from Adams Express, the company that operated the truck, as damages. Herman wants to sign the lawyer’s paper, but Katie throws him out of the house. It is, she says, “blood money.”
Repeatedly, Mike learns how terrible life is for people in America without money, especially Jews. They need to cope not only with poverty but also with anti-Semitism. Because six-year-old Mike uses a dirty...
(The entire section is 573 words.)