Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
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.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Bloom, James D. Left Letters: The Culture Wars of Mike Gold and Joseph Freeman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992. Places Jews Without Money in the context of the debate over proletarian art and in the context of Gold’s and Freeman’s efforts as spokespersons for radical literature.
Fiedler, Leslie A. To the Gentiles. New York: Stein and Day, 1972. A largely negative treatment of Gold and Jews Without Money in the context of Jewish American literature.
Guttmann, Allen. The Jewish Writer in America: Assimilation and the Crisis of Identity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971. Sees Gold’s book as communicating the spirit of the ghetto but lacking a plot in any usual sense of the term.
Klein, Marcus. Foreigners: The Making of American Literature, 1900-1940. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. Treats Gold as a central character in the making of modern American literature. Gives a very sympathetic reading of Jews Without Money.
Sherman, Bernard. The Invention of the Jew: Jewish-American Education Novels, 1916-1964. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1969. Treats Jews Without Money as a Marxist education novel as well as a representation of a simplistic view of life.