The metaphor of the melting pot has become the image of an assimilated American – a person who had discarded his ethnic identity to become American.
The term “the melting pot” was coined by Israel Zangwill in his famous play The Melting-Pot in 1908. Zangwill illustrated how people from different nations were melted together and born again as Americans.
Waldemar Ager was much opposed to the common conception of America as a melting pot. He knew that the immigrants had to work and raise their children in America, but he thought it important to that they should hold on to their ethnic identities as Norwegians. In 1917 Waldemar Ager wrote Paa veien til smeltepotten (On the Way to the Melting Pot) as a protest against cultural assimilation.
The following excerpt is taken from the opening chapter of the novel. We are at the Omley's. Mrs Omley is preparing dinner and waiting for her guests to arrive. The experienced housewife is rather nervous. She knows little English and needs to consult her daughter Sophie to read the cookbook.
- Why did Mrs Omley need her daughter’s assistance?
- What is Mrs Omley cooking?
- What are they celebrating?
- Mrs Omley is from Norway. What do you think her Norwegian last name is?
- Which language does Sophie speak when she is angry? What does her mother think of this?
- Characterize Mrs Omley and Sophie. What can be said about their relationship?
- On the Way to the Melting Pot is called a satirical novel. Ager ridicules Norwegian Americans because they try so hard to become Americans and in doing so they discard the best qualities of their old cultural heritage. How is Ager’s view revealed in this excerpt?
- The novel was published in Norwegian. Why do you think Ager used the term "smeltepotten" and not "smeltedigelen" in the title?
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