The Promised Land Essay - Critical Essays

Mary Antin


Antin’s book has been called the classic Jewish-American immigrant autobiography, as it praises the United States and the process of Americanization. Antin emphasizes the lack of continuity between her Old World and New World selves, even going so far as to speak of herself in terms of two separate persons who happen to share the same memories. When she moved to the United States, she acquired a new name (her Hebrew name, Maryashe, became Mary, and she started to use her last name, something unheard of in Russia) and, in a manner of speaking, a new life.

The idea for writing The Promised Land originated with one of her uncles, who urged her to keep a diary of her journey from Polotzk to Boston. In 1899, the diary was published in Antin’s own English translation as From Plotzk to Boston, and Antin, who was about eighteen at the time, was hailed as a prodigy. The Promised Land treats a much more extensive period of her life than does From Plotzk to Boston.

Antin characterizes life in Russia in terms of restriction, mainly because of her religion but also because of her sex. Early in her childhood, her family lived under fairly good economic circumstances, but the prolonged illnesses of both her mother and her father plunged the family into a deep poverty from which they were unable to arise. Her father also longed to live where he could enjoy more freedom than he did as a Jew in the Russian Pale. For the...

(The entire section is 551 words.)