Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 241

Mary Antin wrote The Promised Land for two different audiences. Though her goal was primarily to explain the experience of a Jewish immigrant to a non-Jewish audience, it appears that she also intended her work to be an inspiration for Jewish women. Antin critiqued the customs and expectations of Jewish women living in traditional communities, but she also shows, through her own experience, that women can transcend these restrictions and free themselves from oppression. For example, she highlights the value placed on learning in Jewish communities—Jewish religious learning—and she explains that women are denied the educational opportunities that men have, as they are forbidden to study with a heder. Therefore, women are disempowered in their own communities and devalued because of their lack of education and knowledge.

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Antin, however, refused to accept her status as inferior to men; she defied tradition and gained an education. She did this within her traditional community, and then she continued her educational growth in America. Thus, Antin’s book was not only a celebration of the American Dream, but a source of empowerment for women in traditional cultures. Antin was alienated within her community for desiring to break free from the constraints of her religion, and she was alienated from her culture when she left her homeland and came to America. Yet, through her own devices, she empowered herself to be both successful in her own right and inspirational to generations of women.

Form and Content

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 461

InThe Promised Land, Mary Antin tells of moving from Polotzk, Russia, to Boston, Massachusetts, when she was around thirteen years old. As a child, she lived in the Russian Pale, the part of Russia where Jews were forced to live by law. As a Jew in the Pale, she was a decidedly second-class citizen with few opportunities for education and little freedom. She also was helpless to defend herself against the abuse of her Christian neighbors. As a female Jew, her opportunities were even more limited, as she could not get the religious education that male Jews received.

In Boston, however, Antin found herself with immense freedom and limitless opportunities for education, provided mainly through the public school system but also through the Boston Public Library, the settlement houses (especially Hale House), and the streets. Barred from secular schools in Russia, she was welcomed into the public schools in Boston and provided with the same opportunities to learn as any other child. The book recounts how she took advantage of those opportunities. Cen-tral to The Promised Land is this contrast between Antin’s life in Europe and the United States. In fact, she wonders whether the child of the Russian Pale and the American adolescent can be the same person and speaks of her coming to the United States as a second birth.

Antin carries this contrast through the twenty chapters of The Promised Land , ending with a glimpse into her possible future in the New World and with a summary of the ways in which her life has changed. The change seems truly miraculous...

(The entire section contains 761 words.)

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