Chapter 5 Summary

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The fifth chapter, “Henry Ford’s English-Language Melting Pot,” begins with Lefty and Desdemona on their way to Detroit. They first must pass through Ellis Island, where the immigrants have letters, such as “Pg” for “pregnant,” chalked onto their clothing. Dr. Philobosian has an “X” chalked on him when a doctor notices that his eyes are inflamed. There are many letters to denote diseases, such as “C” for conjunctivitis. Desdemona’s immigrant braids, which are still tied with ribbons of mourning, are cut off at the YWCA. Lefty thinks it makes her look like an American woman, but Desdemona replies that she does not want to look like an American. She puts her braids into her silkworm box, which is now empty since silkworm eggs are included on a list of parasites at Ellis Island.

They journey to Detroit where they meet their first cousin, twice removed, Sourmelina ("Lina") Zizmo. Lina used to live in Bithynios until she was caught with two other lesbians. After that, her parents tried to marry her off, but found no suitors. They ended up looking for a suitor in America and found one in Jimmy Zizmo (whose last name is shortened from Zisimopoulis). They exchange letters and photos across the Atlantic as they negotiate over the dowry, which concludes with Lina in Detroit with her new husband. Lefty and Desdemona confess to Lina that they have married, and Lina complains that she left Bithynios just when things were getting “interesting.” They swear her to secrecy.

Jimmy’s house is kept tidy and without alcohol because Jimmy, who is an “importer,” does not want trouble with the police. Cal describes him as “so many things I don’t know where to begin. Amateur herbalist; antisuffragist; big-game hunter; ex-con; drug pusher; teetotaler.” When Jimmy meets Lefty, he is surprised to find out that the latter did not get a dowry when he married Desdemona and suggests that “if you don’t get paid, don’t get married.” Lefty and Desdemona will live with Jimmy and Lina, and they will pay rent. Although Jimmy does not take Lefty into his import business, he manages to get the new immigrant a job working for Ford.

At Ford, Lefty finds work grinding bearings—one every fourteen seconds. Cal explains that “people stopped being human in 1913. That was the year Henry Ford put his cars on rollers and made his workers adopt the speed of the assembly line ... In 1922 it was still a new thing to be a machine.” Lefty is also required to learn English, and he takes lessons every day after work. Desdemona, meanwhile, spends her time cooking, though she refuses to shop in the American markets. She is homesick; Lefty, however, seems to be adapting easily.

Supper at the Zizmo house is interrupted one night by a knock at the door. Two men representing Henry Ford’s interests come into the house to inspect its cleanliness. They explain that “five dollars a day in the hands of some men might work a tremendous handicap along the paths of rectitude and right living and might make of them a menace to society in general.” Therefore, no man in Ford’s employ is to receive full pay unless he demonstrates that he can use it “advisedly and conservatively.” As they inspect the house, they introduce Lefty to the toothbrush and are discouraged to learn that Lefty is a boarder. They explain that Ford prefers his employees to “obtain mortgages.” Lefty’s English class goes well and he takes part in a ceremony in which workers from all different nations convene. The men enter a large “melting pot” wearing clothes from their home countries. Inside, they change into suits (blue and grey are acceptable colors) and finally emerge as Americans. When the ceremony ends, Lefty is approached again by Ford’s men. Lefty boasts that he passed his English test, but they inform him that he has not done well enough and proceed to lay him off.

Later, Lina informs Lefty that both she and Desdemona are "knocked up."

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