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...
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