Anzia Yezierska

America and I

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America and I Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 25-page guide for “America and I” by Anzia Yezierska includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 15 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Immigration and Assimilation and Poverty.

Anzia Yezierska introduces her immigration story by outlining why she came to America—to find hope, romance, and freedom to express herself. When she arrives, she says her body is strong and her “heart and soul pregnant with the unlived lives of generations clamoring for expression” (Paragraph 4). This is not to be, at least immediately. She needs money but cannot find work in factories, so her only options are to work in a kitchen or to act as nanny and housekeeper for an Americanized family from the same village of origin as hers.

When she asks about wages, though, the family is cold. The man preaches that she should not “be so grabbing for wages” (Paragraph 13); she should instead be grateful to associate with his family. The woman tells her that this will be like a vacation with her two lovely children and that Anzia can learn to become civilized like they are. Anzia feels she is with friends, so she pushes wages out of her mind and decides to trust them.

She says, “The best of me I gave them” (Paragraph 16); she works hard early till late, but is never tired because she is grateful to mingle with Americans and learn English from the children, grocer, and anyone who will help her. Words will only get her so far, however, and she needs money to buy clothes to fit in. After the month is up, she awaits her paycheck so she can create the Americanized image of herself that is in her head.

On the day she expects to receive her money, she gets up, cleans the house, prepares breakfast, has lunch, and sets the table for dinner, all the while hearing nothing about her wages. She can no longer stand it and rushes to the American woman and man to ask them what they owe her. They look at her stonily and tell her she has a bed for sleeping, three meals a day, and doesn’t know any English. They say she is not worth any money yet.

She leaves, feeling helpless and wounded. She fears working for a similar family and has lost trust in “Americans.” So instead, she turns to “the Ghetto” for her next employment prospects. There, she finds work in a sweatshop in a Delancey Street basement, sewing buttons. Her day is long. She says: “Day after day, week after week, all the contact I got with America was handling dead buttons” (Paragraph 44). She sleeps on the floor of a room in a tenement with a dozen others in the same boat, and she is always hungry—yet she still feels herself to be better off than when she was with the “American” family, because she has her evenings to herself. She goes to the roof sometimes to talk to the sky about her feelings of being lost and to think about where America actually is.

The busy season starts at the shop, and Anzia’s days become longer. Her overseer gets greedier for her employees’ time. Eventually, Anzia can’t take it and tells the woman she wants to go home. Her overseer tells her, “You learned already too much in America. I want no clock-watchers in my shop. Out you go!” (Paragraph 53). Now fired, she can no longer pay for her bed or food.

Her situation gets better. She becomes a trained worker at a factory, where she only has to work eight hours a day, six days a week. She has food and a bed, and she dresses like an American—yet she doesn’t feel like one. She is not sure what she wants, but she begins to take an English class for “foreigners.” One day, she goes to the teacher for advice.

The teacher asks what Anzia wants to do. Anzia says, “I want to do something with my head, my feelings”…

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