Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 243
In her 1912 memoir The Promised Land, Belarussian-American writer Mary Antin describes her life from her childhood in Belarus to her immigration to the United States in the 1890s.
As the book is a non-fiction autobiography, the principal character is Antin herself and the story is told from her first-person perspective. As we learn from her narrative, Antin is from a Jewish family, and this fact informs her early experiences in Belarus where she observes that non-Jewish families "considered it pious to hate and abuse us."
Antin emigrates from Belarus with her family and settles in Boston where she takes particular pride in her naturalization as an American citizen, notably recalling that she was now a fellow citizen of George Washington, whom she describes as being "like a king in greatness." This legal rite of passage—the transformation from alien to citizen—is the central theme of the story. However, an important sub-theme is the disintegration of traditional family life common among immigrants. Members of her immediate family, therefore, play important roles in the story as a supporting cast of characters.
Antin's family includes her sister, Fetchke, whom she describes as a "good little girl" and adds that she could not remember "a time when Fetchke was naughty"; her brother, Joseph, who sold newspapers after the family's emigration; and her other sister, Deborah. Antin's father, Israel, preceded his family's move to the United States by three years, later sending for them to join him.
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