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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 124

The Promised Land recounts the transformation of an East European Jewish immigrant into an American citizen. It was written in 1912 by Mary Antin, who describes the complex process of acclimation and assimilation by combining political commentaries, biography, and history. As an Jewish immigrant herself, Antin explains how the process transformed her entire being and challenged age-old traditions and expectations of her as a Jewish woman living in a Jewish community. While the book highlights the oppression of Jews in Europe and the cultural constraints on Jewish women in particular, it also highlights the ability of Jewish women to break free from those constraints. It celebrates the promise of the American Dream, and it contrasts life in Old World Jewish communities with life in America.

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Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 397

The Promised Land is Mary Antin’s mature autobiography. In it, she tells the story of what she considers her escape from bondage in Eastern Europe and her finding of freedom in America. Early in the book, she compares herself to a treadmill horse who can only go round and round in the same circle. She sees herself in Polotzk in what was then Russia as imprisoned by her religion (Jews were allowed to live only in certain places in Czarist Russia and only to work at certain trades) and her sex (among Orthodox Jews in Eastern Europe, women were not permitted education beyond learning to read the Psalms in Hebrew).

After her father suffered a long illness and as a result failed in business, he went to America. His family followed him to Boston, where Mary grew up. In America, she felt that she had all the freedom she lacked in the Old World. She could get free secular education. The public schools of Boston, she felt, opened new intellectual vistas for her. She also had access to public libraries and settlement houses that provided her with cultural activities. Thus, she felt she had “a kingdom in the slums.”

She responded to...

(The entire section contains 521 words.)

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