The Promised Land by Mary Antin Book Review

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The Promised Land – Autobiography by Mary Antin

The book, The Promised Land, is an autobiography written by Mary Antin which describes her getting-used-to the American culture. In it, she speaks of the story of what she believes is her escape from bondage in Eastern Europe and her finding of freedom in America. Early in the book, she compares herself to a treadmill horse that can only go round and round in the same circle. She states “how empty the existence of the treadmill horse beside this! As empty and endless and dull as the life of almost any woman in Polotzk, had I had eyes to see the likeness (Antin, 95-96).” She sees herself in Polotzk, in what was then Russia, as someone who is imprisoned by her religion. At that time, Jews were allowed to live only in certain places in Czarist, Russia and only to work at certain trades (Antin, 4-5); and her sex, among Traditional Jews in Eastern Europe, women were not permitted education beyond learning to read the Psalms in Hebrew (Antin, 111-112). The book further explains how after her father suffered a long illness and as a result failed in business, he went to America (Antin, 78). His family followed him to Boston, where Mary grew up. In America, she felt freer then she ever did in the Old World. She could get free secular education, free choice in marriage, and a “brimful womanhood” (Antin, 187, 277). The public schools of Boston, she felt, opened new intellectual windows for her. She also had access to public libraries and settlement houses that provided her with cultural activities. Thus, she felt, as the title of chapter XIX is written, like she had “a kingdom in the slums” (Antin, 337). The book further more talks about how she responded to America’s possibilities by doing extremely well in school and by publishing her first poem when she was fifteen. Her father proudly bought copies of the newspaper in which it appeared and distributed it to friends and neighbors, bragging about his daughter the writer...
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