The scene deals with the arrival of a would-be immigrant (he'd like to but isn't yet) on Ellis Island probably at the beginning of the 20th century and we witness1 the various interviews and checks he has to go through. The scene is seen through the eyes of a prospective immigrant. This text is a first person narrative2 and it is interesting because it enables us to feel closer to the character and gives us a better insight into what went on in the mind of immigrants, what they felt.
The text folds into three parts:
The first part runs from l.1 to l.11 and deals with the arrival on Ellis Island.
The second part runs from l.11 to l.42. It consists in the interviews with the custom officers. The last part l.42 to the end is about the prospective immigrant's dream about his life in America.
My analysis will be divided into three parts. First, I will analyze the medical examination. Then, I will study the interview and eventually I will concentrate on the immigrant's dream.
The medical examination was aimed at:
- checking that immigrants were healthy and fit enough to work in the USA
- making sure they were not bringing with them contagious diseases.
Custom officers paid particular attention to TB (tuberculosis), pneumonia and trachoma.
- making sure they were literate3so that they could fit in and cope in the USA.
Basically, the officers wanted to make sure that immigrants would not be a burden on American society. We can quote line 5. “Someone else made me cough4 and breathe”: He seems to be like an object in a production line and is reified. He is treated like cattle. He is not in control of himself. He is anonymous; he has no contact with the others. The indefinite articles convey an impression of anonymity. It is scary (= scaring) for him. He is one among many others but he feels lonely. He must be frightened to be sent back to his country.
We can quote line 8 “I had to take off my clothes and turn around several times. In another room, a big fat man asked if I could bend over.”
The fat man holds the future of immigrant in his hands. He is bossy, and he abuses his power and authority. The immigrant is examined like a slave; he feels humiliated, inferior and dominated when he bends over
The woman wants to check if he is illiterate and she wants to know about his abilities and skills to know what kind of job he is able to do.
He doesn't correspond5 to her vision of immigrant which she sees as ignorant, illiterate people. She wants to know in what way he could be useful to the country.
They feared an invasion of communist and anarchist ideas opposed to the individual and capitalist society (the Red scare)
She makes him feel ill at ease6 when she asked him what he did for a living (l.27).
She is not at all welcoming and sympathetic7 she is cold and scornful as we can see line 31 “sharply” and line 35-6 “evident disgust”.
She sees him as a burden, a lame duck and considers him as being unproductive for the country. She doesn't even take the trouble of explaining to him what she has done (l.41). But he doesn't let himself be impressed. Instead of getting angry or losing his self-control and temper, he remains pleasant, smiling and calm (l.37).
He takes her questions with humor, he is good-natured.
We can notice an evolution in his attitude, he seems to be less impressed by the woman than by the man.
In spite of the unpleasant welcome he has received so far, he remains calm and smiling. He is probably so proud and so thrilled that he overlooks the negative aspects of America.
We could expect him to feel worried about the future but surprisingly enough we can
read “I was elated” (l.42) which reveals he is self-confident. He will not be put off.
The fog (l.46) symbolizes the hardship of his life.
He is daydreaming as he imagines “a magnificent island of fjords, meadows, and castles”.
It is a fairy tale where America would be the dreamland.
Immigrants are prepared to face all the dangers to fulfill their dream.
It's a typical case of immigrant in the beginning of the century.
We don't know if he was accepted or not, he can be very disappointed.
Those people used to have a hard life, it explains why Americans are fighters and want to work hard.