The Melting Pot: A Drama in Four Acts, Israel Zangwill, 1909

As a Jewish immigrant who had seen the worst of the pogroms against Jews in Russia, David Quixano, the main character of the play, has tremendous faith in America, his new land. He sees America as a place where the religious, national, and ethnic differences that had torn Europe apart can be overcome. Throughout the play, David, who is a composer, articulates his vision of America as a crucible or “melting pot.”  When he meets Vera Revendal, a young Russian settlement house worker who is Christian,  difficult issues of identity and prejudice arise as the two are attracted to one another, as can be seen in the excerpt here.


Vera: So your music finds inspiration in America?
David: Yes, in the seething of the Crucible.
Vera: The Crucible? I don’t understand!
David: Not understand! You, the Spirit of the Settlement!

[He rises and crosses to her and leans over the table, facing her.]

Now understand that America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and re-forming! Here you stand, good folk, think I, When I see them at Ellis Island, here you stand [graphically illustrating it at the table] in your fifty groups, with your fifty languages and histories, and your fifty blood hatreds and rivalries. But you won’t be long like that, brothers, for these are the fires of God you’ve come to—these are the fires of God. A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians—into the Crucible with you all!  God is making the American.

As much as Zangwill wanted to communicate the creation of a single American identity, his characters also struggle with the difficulties of overcoming both ethnic identity and the prejudice of others. Here Mendel, David’s uncle, astonished to hear David say he will marry Vera, points out the importance of maintaining a Jewish identity.

Mendel: This is true? This is not some stupid Purim joke?
David: True and sacred as the sunrise.
Mendel: But you are a Jew!
David: Yes, and just think! She was bred up to despise Jews—her father was a Russian baron—
Mendel: If she was the daughter of fifty barons, you cannot marry her.
David: [In pained amazement] Uncle! [slowly]  Then you hankering after the synagogue was serious after all.
Mendel: It is not so much the synagogue—it its the call of our blood through immemorial generations.
David: You say that! You who have come to the heart of the Crucible, where the roaring fires of God are fusing our race with all the others.
Mendel [Passionately]: Not our race, not your race and mine.
David: What immunity has our race? [Meditatively] The pride and the prejudice, the dreams and the sacrifices, the traditions and the superstitions, the fasts and the feasts, things noble and things sordid—they must fall into the Crucible.
Mendel [With prophetic fury]: The Jew has been tried in a thousand fires and only tempered and annealed.
David: Fires of hate, not fires of love. That is what melts.
Mendel[Sneers}:  So I see.

[From Israel Zangwill, The Melting Pot: A Drama in Four Acts (New York: Macmillan & Co., 1919), 36-37, 94-96.]