Call It Sleep

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate November 2001

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Call It Sleep by Henry Roth, the story of an Austrian family embarking on a new life in the prosperous lands of America, is marked as one of the finest Jewish-American novels of the first half of the century. This book, praised when it hit the shelves, neglected for decades and again rediscovered in the 1960's has used the familial, racial, and societal struggles faced by the immigrants and added themes of hope and despair, the search for a better life, and the need for independence and tradition. Roth portrays the immigrant experience with a slight variation to the true historical findings, and contrary to the factual text, Roth's ideas behind immigration evidently display a surcharge of fiction to add to the entertainment factor of the novel. Each migrant family ventured to the new land in hopes of finding a new life, reaching for higher standards; all the while being plagued by the questions of belonging.

Call It Sleep opens with the journey of the Schearl family to the shores of Ellis Island, New York. Roth illustrates the family's first experiences of the new land. The first selection of information that seems to lack similarity to the historical content is the type of clothing worn by these "third class" or "steerage" passengers. Each member of the family had on "American clothes". Their black jackets and/or skirts with white under shirts disguised them to blend in with the crowds of Americans on the streets. Most families coming over on boats could not afford clothes from the new nation. Most came over with little knowledge at all about the American culture and just had to deal with and bear the pangs of being different. ""¦no one probably, could have singled out the women and child as newly arrived immigrants" (10). Arguably,

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