Page 43 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

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American Yiddish Literature - the
Immigrant Phase
n t i l
th e
ou tb r e ak
o f W o rld W ar I, the transplanted East Euro­
pean Jewish community in Am erica was a typical imm igrant soci­
ety and its literature reflected this state o f affairs. T h e themes and
motifs o f the imm igrant writers reflected the lives o f the people,
on the one hand, and the beliefs and the ideo logy o f the writers,
on the other. For a long time Y iddish literature was virtually
synonymous with the Yiddish press; and nearly all the novels,
short stories, and poems were first published in the press be fo re
appearing in book form , i f they ever attained this distinction.
Readers and writers alike earned their livelihood in the sweat
shops. T h ey came home convinced that their own misery and the
sufferings around them were due to capitalist exploitation. These
socio-economic conditions prov ided a favorable background fo r
the growth o f a Y idd ish “ proletarian literature.”
T o this school o f writing belonged the three foremost poets o f
the eighties and nineties: Morris Vinchevsky, David Edelstadt,
and Joseph Bovshover. Vinchevsky’s semifictional socialist pam ­
Yehi O r
(L e t T h e r e Be Light, 1885), ushered in proletarian
Yiddish fiction. In his poetry he resorted to two main topics, the
sufferings o f the laborer and the need to take up the struggle fo r
the betterment o f his condition. These themes were characteristic
also o f the writings o f his colleagues.
O f the literary production o f some seventy writers who wrote in
the newspapers and periodicals o f the eighties and early nineties,
very little is preserved in book fo rm .1T h e most important prose
writings o f the period consist o f Abe Cahan’s short stories, which
border on p ropaganda , Benjam in Feigenbaum ’s and Ph ilip
Krantz’ numerous anti-religious pamphlets, and Shomer’s many
1 This number is given by Kalman Marmor on p. 37 o f his
Der onhoib fu n der
Yidisher literatur in Amerika
(1870-1890), N .Y ., 1944.