Hardened or Hopeful: Immigrants in the Early 20th Century

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Hardened or Hopeful: Immigrants in the Early 20th Century

Stephen Crane’s novel exemplifies the lives of poor immigrants in the major cities of turn of the century America. While a few immigrants were able to rise above their struggles and succeed, most were held below the poverty line and many of their descendants still are due to the circumstances they were faced with. New immigrant groups are going through modern versions of those struggles in today’s world.

As immigrants filled the cities, they moved into poor, abandoned neighborhoods. These areas were appallingly overcrowded, which contributed to poverty, crime, and disease. They tended to stick with people from their home countries and speak their native tongues. Their children had to straddle two different worlds. They went to the public schools and learned English but still kept to their own. Some of the traditions brought from their countries worked their way into American life.

The native-born Americans were more troubled by this influx of immigrants than they had been before because the previous immigrant groups were either English-speaking or Protestants or both. This “new” immigrants were thought of as dangerous and radical. They were seen as threats to American workers because they would settle for lower wages. They called for restrictions to immigration and Congress responded by denying convicts, paupers, the mentally ill, and contract laborers. They also barred the Chinese in with the Chinese Exclusion act in 1882, which was extended in 1882 and then made permanent in 1902. However, in 1943 it was repealed.

The characters in Maggie: A Girl of the Streets portray Irish immigrants struggling to survive in America. The main character, Maggie, is a beautiful young girl who naively hopes for a better life. However, the rest of the world around her prevents this from becoming a reality. She works in a sweatshop making collars and cuffs. Her parents are both malicious...
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