Michael Gold (1893-1967)
Contributing Editor: Barry Gross
Classroom Issues and Strategies
Because Gold's intentions are didactic, he says what he has to say very directly and his language is very plain. Since he does not deal with any complex or difficult concepts or ideas, his work is immediately accessible to students.
It's useful to provide some statistics for background. For instance, the population density on the Lower East Side, the mortality rate for infants, incidence of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, etc. It would also be helpful to show pictures, tapes, movies depicting life on the Lower East Side, although there has been a tendency to sentimentalize that life, to make it something to feel nostalgia for, and, hence, it's gotten prettified.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
The warpings of poverty. The malign effects of unmediated capitalism. The peculiarly American mix and juxtaposition of races, groups, minorities. The nature of a slum (a slum seems to be a slum regardless of who inhabits it). The threats to the traditional patriarchal structure of family and culture that American ghetto life posed. The role of the mother. The threats to traditional Jewish culture that America posed.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
Note the combination of a journalistic style characterized by short sentences, monosyllabic words, a kind of reportage we think of as Hemingwayesque, and the occasional sketches of sentimentality, exhortation, lament.
To the extent that Jews Without Money is written by a member of the Communist party who called for the overthrow of capitalism, it is very important to locate it in 1930. To the extent that it is a sentimental and intellectual and artistic autobiography, it is not so important to locate it. To the extent that it's a book about being Jewish, some historical placement is necessary. (There will be students, even Jewish students, who will think that "Jews without money" is an oxymoron.)
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
The Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska, Call It Sleep by Henry Roth, Yekl by Abraham Cahan, The World of Our Fathers by Irving Howe, The Rise of David Levinsky by Abraham Cahan, and What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg are the most famous of many works that deal with Jewish immigrant life on the Lower East Side. It would also be useful/interesting to compare and contrast with works by and about other immigrant groups, other minorities, other slum dwellers.
There is much available on the Lower East Side (World of Our Fathers, The Golden Door, et al.); the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith (chapters in all large cities) will usually provide bibliographies, secondary materials, source materials, study guides for educational purposes.