Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

9. Social

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Activities: Author Activities

Abraham Cahan - Teaching Tips

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  • Cahan's Bintl Briv advice column was enormously popular with his immigrant readers. As he stated in his memoirs, "People often need the opportunity to be able to pour out their heavy-laden hearts. Among our immigrant masses this need was very marked. Hundreds of thousands of people, torn from their homes and their dear ones, were lonely souls who thirsted for expression, who wanted to hear an opinion, who wanted advice in solving their weighty problems." Have your students consider what kinds of problems the advice-seekers would probably have shared with the editor. How would their problems be specific to their position as Jewish immigrants? How would their concerns compare to those expressed in such contemporary advice columns as Dear Abby? Ask students to imagine that they are newly arrived immigrants in the United States. Have them compose their own Bintl Briv letters and/or answers. (A selection of Bintl Briv letters can be found in Jewish American Literature: A Norton Anthology.)

  • Ask your class to analyze the title of "A Sweat-Shop Romance." Why might Cahan have given the story this title? To what contradictory immigrant experiences does the title allude? What kinds of connotations do the words "sweat-shop" and "romance" have? Does a sweatshop seem a likely place for romance? As they try to define the term "sweatshop," students could look at the pictures of Lower East Side dwellings and workplaces featured in the archive and read carefully Cahan's description of Lipman's "cockroach" shop.

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