13 / 2001
Dan Shiffman

Louis Adamic and the Metaphor of Immigrant Generations

The paper discusses Louis Adamic’s writings on the spiritual and cultural alienation experienced by the children of immigrants to the United States during the 1930s and 1940s. In contrast to the notion of second-generation “betrayal” of ethnic origins popularized by the historian Marcus Lee Hansen, Adamic characterizes how immigrant children are marked by feelings of inferiority and rootlessness–feelings that often cut across generations. Although the second generation aspired to full inclusion in American life, they struggled with the limitations of an ethnic identity that was often attributed to them by the mainstream society. The paper considers both Adamic’s fictional and journalistic treatments of the second-generation problem, with particular attention to his novel Grandsons (1935) and his portraits of ethnic American experiences in From Many Lands (1940) and What’s Your Name? (1942). Ultimately, Adamic’s discussion of the second-generation problems is part of his larger argument for a new American genealogy that fully accounts for the nation’s immigrant heritage.