I need to write a letter about the experiences of an Italian immigrant factory worker who left Italy and came to the United States (New York) during the Gilded Age.  The letter must describe his...

I need to write a letter about the experiences of an Italian immigrant factory worker who left Italy and came to the United States (New York) during the Gilded Age. 

The letter must describe his living conditions, his neighborhood, his working conditions, what problems he was likely to face, what he might do for fun.

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly, a letter can take any form possible.  One can write about the struggles of the immigrant in the urban setting, and how this represents the essence of perseverance.  Yet, I think that a more compelling letter could explore the truly overwhelming conditions that the Italian immigrant faced in New York.

For the Italian immigrant who landed in New York, the prototypical image of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty greeting them can serve as a great opening to any letter.  The Emma Lazarus inscription and the promise and possibility of the Statue of Liberty would be the opening image that a Southern European immigrant would carry with them as they enter the new world. Being a "New Immigrant," there was a spirit of hope and promise within the mindset of anyone newly arriving into America.  The "streets are paved with gold" and the unlimited sense of hope could serve as excellent imagery to open a letter and to capture the mindset of the Italian immigrant during the Gilded Age.

The degrading of this hope into reality is where the letter's experiences could prove to be quite compelling.  The living conditions in which many immigrants lived in the time period were of squalor and filth. The emergence of urban slums were populated by immigrants.  Jacob Riis captures this in his writing and photography of the time period:

In all of which I have made no account of a factor which is at the bottom of half our troubles with our immigrant population, so far as they are not of our own making: the loss of reckoning that follows uprooting;... In the slum it reaches its climax in the second generation, and makes of the Irishman’s and the Italian’s boys the 'toughs' who fight the battles of Hell’s Kitchen and Frog Hollow.

The letter can bring out how this "other half lives" as the living conditions that the Italian immigrant faced were challenging.  The neighborhood in which the prototypical Italian immigrant lived was one in which individuals had to find help in corners that might not be entirely desirable.  Given how the "toughs" were so prevalent in the neighborhood, it would make sense that the Italian immigrant's living conditions would be shown to be challenging in the letter. Being able to find protection with these "toughs" or even seek sanctuary in the growing urban, political machines of the time period could be a possible alternative of the Italian immigrant.

The working conditions that the Italian immigrant faced were equally difficult. No doubt, the worker was faced with factory owners that were not legislated by a minimum wage and the establishment of safe working conditions.  They faced struggle in working long hours for little pay.  This toil would have to be conveyed in the letter.  

The working life that the Italian immigrant faced as a worker was challenging. Yet, it could be conveyed that this struggle was a part of the American Dream. In terms of enjoyment, the letter could convey the small element of American life that were evident to the immigrant of the time period.  The skyscrapers in the New York center, the promise of wealth, as well as the hope of starting a family could all be a part of this communicated experience.  There is a certain hope and sadness in the immigrant experience that can be conveyed in this letter.  It is the "brutal beauty" of immigrant identity during the Gilded Age in America.

amysor | Student

This letter is easy to write once you make sure you have your research completed. Italians during the gilded age were discriminated. They were not protestant, nor looked white, so they were look down upon. Also, many Italians lived in Little Italy in Manhattan, after arriving in America. Labor Laws were not in favor for immigrants during the gilded age. The housing in cities were tight, and very expensive, most poor people lived in very bad living conditions

The italian man could be living in Little Italy with his family. They were poor since he was a factory worker, living in a small apartment with very litte furniture or space. Working conditions were bad as well. Maybe it could be a meat factory, and to help describe the working conditions, you can take exerpts from "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair to help you describe what really happened in these factories. Most factory workers worked long hours, having little free time. Maybe he can spend his free time with his family at church, or something that might relate to their previous experience in Italy.

I hope I helped, and good luck writing your essay. When writing, make sure to pretend you are actually the immigrant, write with the emotions and struggles to make the letter seem more realistic. Also, to help interest the reader, make a dramatic event occur, just a thought.