Review of The Life Stories of Undistinguished Americans as Told by Themselves
The Life Stories of Undistinguished Americans as Told by Themselves. Edited by HAMILTON HOLT. With an Introduction by EDWIN E. SLOSSON. New York : James. Potter & Co., 1906. Pp, vii+299.
This volume contains an interesting series of human documents, representing in the main American conditions as seen by foreign immigrants, and presented also for the most part in their own words. The narrators are a Lithuanian Stock Yards worker, a Polish sweat-shop girl, an Italian bootblack, a Greek peddler, a Swedish farmer, a French dressmaker, a German nurse girl, an Irish cook, an Iowa farmer's wife, a southern itinerant minister, a negro peon, a Syrian
( 274) editor, an Indian trained nurse, an Igor rote chief, a Japanese servant, and a Chinese laundryman.
The stories are simply told, with evident sincerity, are most fascinating reading, and afford the American an excellent opportunity to see himself as others see him.
Perhaps the most striking and instructive feature of the narratives is the disclosure of the conditions which make for content and discontent. No matter how hard the conditions of life are found by the immigrant in America, they are milder and present better opportunities for the improvement of his condition than those at home, and the foreigners in America are uniformly happy, successful, and enthusiastic. Aside from the negro peon, the only unhappy person in the book is a native American woman, the wife of an Iowa farmer, who in spite of prosperous conditions is bitterly unhappy because she aspires to be a literary woman ; while the young Swedish farmer and his sisters, under harder conditions in the Northwest, are in possession of an enviable and solid happiness. We are impressed also with the fact that it is environment almost altogether, and not blood, which makes the American, and these stories of foreigners who have become ardent Americans by leaps and bounds do much to modify our prejudice against indiscriminate foreign immigration.
W. I. THOMAS