The Melting Pot - Israel Zangwill - ebook

The Melting Pot is the third of the writer's plays to be published in book form, though the first of the three in order of composition. But unlike The War God and The Next Religion, which are dramatisations of the spiritual duels of our time, The Melting Pot sprang directly from the author's concrete experience as President of the Emigration Regulation Department of the Jewish Territorial Organisation, which, founded shortly after the great massacres of Jews in Russia, will soon have fostered the settlement of ten thousand Russian Jews in the West of the United States."Romantic claptrap," wrote Mr. A. B. Walkley in the Times of "this rhapsodising over music and crucibles and statues of Liberty." As if these things were not the homeliest of realities, and rhapsodising the natural response to them of the Russo-Jewish psychology, incurably optimist. The statue of Liberty is a large visible object at the mouth of New York harbour; the crucible, if visible only to the eye of imagination like the inner reality of the sunrise to the eye of Blake, is none the less a roaring and flaming actuality.

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Israel Zangwill

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Table of contents

Act I

Act II


Act IV







Act I

The scene is laid in the living-room of the small home of the Quixanos in the Richmond or non-Jewish borough of New York, about five o'clock of a February afternoon. At centre back is a double street-door giving on a columned veranda in the Colonial style. Nailed on the right-hand door-post gleams a Mezuzah, a tiny metal case, containing a Biblical passage. On the right of the door is a small hat-stand holding Mendel's overcoat, umbrella, etc. There are two windows, one on either side of the door, and three exits, one down-stage on the left leading to the stairs and family bedrooms, and two on the right, the upper leading to Kathleen's bedroom and the lower to the kitchen. Over the street door is pinned the Stars-and-Stripes. On the left wall, in the upper corner of which is a music-stand, are bookshelves of large mouldering Hebrew books, and over them is hung a Mizrach, or Hebrew picture, to show it is the East Wall. Other pictures round the room include Wagner, Columbus, Lincoln, and "Jews at the Wailing place." Down-stage, about a yard from the left wall, stands David's roll-desk, open and displaying a medley of music, a quill pen, etc. On the wall behind the desk hangs a book-rack with brightly bound English books. A grand piano stands at left centre back, holding a pile of music and one huge Hebrew tome. There is a table in the middle of the room covered with a red cloth and a litter of objects, music, and newspapers. The fireplace, in which a fire is burning, occupies the centre of the right wall, and by it stands an armchair on which lies another heavy mouldy Hebrew tome. The mantel holds a clock, two silver candlesticks, etc. A chiffonier stands against the back wall on the right. There are a few cheap chairs. The whole effect is a curious blend of shabbiness, Americanism, Jewishness, and music, all four being combined in the figure of Mendel Quixano, who, in a black skull-cap, a seedy velvet jacket, and red carpet-slippers, is discovered standing at the open street-door. He is an elderly music master with a fine Jewish face, pathetically furrowed by misfortunes, and a short grizzled beard.MENDELGood-bye, Johnny!... And don't forget to practise your scales.[Shutting door, shivers.]Ugh! It'll snow again, I guess.[He yawns, heaves a great sigh of relief, walks toward the table, and perceives a music-roll.]The chump! He's forgotten his music![He picks it up and runs toward the window on the left, muttering furiously]Brainless, earless, thumb-fingered Gentile![Throwing open the window]Here, Johnny! You can't practise your scales if you leave 'em here![He throws out the music-roll and shivers again at the cold as he shuts the window.]Ugh! And I must go out to that miserable dancing class to scrape the rent together.[He goes to the fire and warms his hands.]Ach Gott! What a life! What a life![He drops dejectedly into the armchair. Finding himself sitting uncomfortably on the big book, he half rises and pushes it to the side of the seat. After an instant an irate Irish voice is heard from behind the kitchen door.]KATHLEEN [Without]Divil take the butther! I wouldn't put up with ye, not for a hundred dollars a week.MENDEL [Raising himself to listen, heaves great sigh]Ach! Mother and Kathleen again!KATHLEEN [Still louder]Pots and pans and plates and knives! Sure 'tis enough to make a saint chrazy.FRAU QUIXANO [Equally loudly from kitchen]Wos schreist du? Gott in Himmel, dieses Amerika!KATHLEEN [Opening door of kitchen toward the end of Frau Quixano's speech, but turning back, with her hand visible on the door]What's that ye're afther jabberin' about America? If ye don't like God's own counthry, sure ye can go back to your own Jerusalem, so ye can.MENDELOne's very servants are anti-Semites.KATHLEEN [Bangs her door as she enters excitedly, carrying a folded white table-cloth. She is a young and pretty Irish maid-of-all-work]Bad luck to me, if iver I take sarvice again with haythen Jews.[She perceives Mendel huddled up in the armchair, gives a little scream, and drops the cloth.]Och, I thought ye was out!MENDEL [Rising]And so you dared to be rude to my mother.KATHLEEN [Angrily, as she picks up the cloth]She said I put mate on a butther-plate.MENDELWell, you know that's against her religion.KATHLEENBut I didn't do nothing of the soort. I ounly put butther on a mate-plate.MENDELThat's just as bad. What the Bible forbids——KATHLEEN [Lays the cloth on a chair and vigorously clears off the litter of things on the table.]Sure, the Pope himself couldn't remimber it all. Why don't ye have a sinsible religion?MENDELYou are impertinent. Attend to your work.[He seats himself at the piano.]KATHLEENAnd isn't it laying the Sabbath cloth I am?[She bangs down articles from the table into their right places.]MENDELDon't answer me back.[He begins to play softly.]KATHLEENFaith, I must answer somebody back—and sorra a word of English she understands. I might as well talk to a tree.MENDELYou are not paid to talk, but to work.[Playing on softly.]KATHLEENAnd who can work wid an ould woman nagglin' and grizzlin' and faultin' me?[She removes the red table-cloth.]Mate-plates, butther-plates, kosher, trepha, sure I've smashed up folks' crockery and they makin' less fuss ouver it.MENDEL [Stops playing.]Breaking crockery is one thing, and breaking a religion another. Didn't you tell me when I engaged you that you had lived in other Jewish families?KATHLEEN [Angrily]And is it a liar ye'd make me out now? I've lived wid clothiers and pawnbrokers and Vaudeville actors, but I niver shtruck a house where mate and butther couldn't be as paceable on the same plate as eggs and bacon—the most was that some wouldn't ate the bacon onless 'twas killed kosher.MENDEL [Tickled]Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!KATHLEEN [Furious, pauses with the white table-cloth half on.]And who's ye laughin' at? I give ye a week's notice. I won't be the joke of Jews, no, begorra, that I won't.[She pulls the cloth on viciously.]MENDEL [Sobered, rising from the piano]Don't talk nonsense, Kathleen. Nobody is making a joke of you. Have a little patience—you'll soon learn our ways.KATHLEEN [More mildly]Whose ways, yours or the ould lady's or Mr. David's? To-night being yer Sabbath, you'll be blowing out yer bedroom candle, though ye won't light it; Mr. David'll light his and blow it out too; and the misthress won't even touch the candleshtick. There's three religions in this house, not wan.MENDEL [Coughs uneasily.]Hem! Well, you learn the mistress's ways—that will be enough.KATHLEEN [Going to mantelpiece]But what way can I understand her jabberin' and jibberin'?—I'm not a monkey![She takes up a silver candlestick.]Why doesn't she talk English like a Christian?MENDEL [Irritated]If you are going on like that, perhaps you had better not remain here.KATHLEEN [Blazing up, forgetting to take the second candlestick]And who's axin' ye to remain here? Faith, I'll quit off this blissid minit!MENDEL [Taken aback]No, you can't do that.KATHLEENAnd why can't I? Ye can keep yer dirthy wages.[She dumps down the candlestick violently on the table, and exit hysterically into her bedroom.]MENDEL [Sighing heavily]She might have put on the other candlestick.[He goes to mantel and takes it. A rat-tat-tat at street-door.]Who can that be?[Running to Kathleen's door, holding candlestick forgetfully low.]Kathleen! There's a visitor!KATHLEEN [Angrily from within]I'm not here!MENDELSo long as you're in this house, you must do your work.[Kathleen's head emerges sulkily.]KATHLEENI tould ye I was lavin' at wanst. Let you open the door yerself.MENDELI'm not dressed to receive visitors—it may be a new pupil.[He goes toward staircase, automatically carrying off the candlestick which Kathleen has not caught sight of. Exit on the left.]KATHLEEN [Moving toward the street-door]The divil fly away wid me if ivir from this 'our I set foot again among haythen furriners——[She throws open the door angrily and then the outer door. Vera Revendal, a beautiful girl in furs and muff, with a touch of the exotic in her appearance, steps into the little vestibule.]VERAIs Mr. Quixano at home?KATHLEEN [Sulkily]Which Mr. Quixano?VERA [Surprised]Are there two Mr. Quixanos?KATHLEEN [Tartly]Didn't I say there was?VERAThen I want the one who plays.KATHLEENThere isn't a one who plays.VERAOh, surely!KATHLEENYe're wrong entirely. They both plays.VERA [Smiling]Oh, dear! And I suppose they both play the violin.KATHLEENYe're wrong again. One plays the piano—ounly the young ginthleman plays the fiddle—Mr. David!VERA [Eagerly]Ah, Mr. David—that's the one I want to see.KATHLEENHe's out.[She abruptly shuts the door.]VERA [Stopping its closing]Don't shut the door!KATHLEEN [Snappily]More chanst of seeing him out there than in here!VERABut I want to leave a message.KATHLEENThen why don't ye come inside? It's freezin' me to the bone.[She sneezes.]Atchoo!VERAI'm sorry.[She comes in and closes the door]Will you please say Miss Revendal called from the Settlement, and we are anxiously awaiting his answer to the letter asking him to play for us on——KATHLEENWhat way will I be tellin' him all that? I'm not here.VERAEh?KATHLEENI'm lavin'—just as soon as I've me thrunk packed.VERAThen I must write the message—can I write at this desk?KATHLEENIf the ould woman don't come in and shpy you.VERAWhat old woman?KATHLEENOuld Mr. Quixano's mother—she wears a black wig, she's that houly.VERA [Bewildered]What?... But why should she mind my writing?KATHLEENLook at the clock.[Vera looks at the clock, more puzzled than ever.]If ye're not quick, it'll be Shabbos.VERABe what?KATHLEEN [Holds up hands of horror]Ye don't know what Shabbos is! A Jewess not know her own Sunday!VERA [Outraged]I, a Jewess! How dare you?KATHLEEN [Flustered]Axin' your pardon, miss, but ye looked a bit furrin and I——VERA [Frozen]I am a Russian.[Slowly and dazedly]Do I understand that Mr. Quixano is a Jew?KATHLEENTwo Jews, miss. Both of 'em.VERAOh, but it is impossible.[Dazedly to herself]He had such charming manners.[Aloud again]You seem to think everybody Jewish. Are you sure Mr. Quixano is not Spanish?—the name sounds Spanish.KATHLEENShpanish![She picks up the old Hebrew book on the armchair.]Look at the ould lady's book. Is that Shpanish?[She points to the Mizrach.]And that houly picture the ould lady says her pater-noster to! Is that Shpanish? And that houly table-cloth with the houly silver candle——[Cry of sudden astonishment]Why, I've ounly put——[She looks toward mantel and utters a great cry of alarm as she drops the Hebrew book on the floor.]Why, where's the other candleshtick! Mother in hivin, they'll say I shtole the candleshtick![Perceiving that Vera is dazedly moving toward door]Beggin' your pardon, miss——[She is about to move a chair toward the desk.]VERAThank you, I've changed my mind.KATHLEENThat's more than I'll do.VERA [Hand on door]Don't say I called at all.KATHLEENPlaze yerself. What name did ye say?[Mendel enters hastily from his bedroom, completely transmogrified, minus the skull-cap, with a Prince Albert coat, and boots instead of slippers, so that his appearance is gentlemanly. Kathleen begins to search quietly and unostentatiously in the table-drawers, the chiffonier, etc., etc., for the candlestick.MENDELI am sorry if I have kept you waiting——[He rubs his hands importantly.]You see I have so many pupils already. Won't you sit down?[He indicates a chair.]VERA [Flushing, embarrassed, releasing her hold of the door handle]Thank you—I—I—I didn't come about pianoforte lessons.MENDEL [Sighing in disappointment]Ach!VERAIn fact I—er—it wasn't you I wanted at all—I was just going.MENDEL [Politely]Perhaps I can direct you to the house you are looking for.VERAThank you, I won't trouble you.[She turns toward the door again.]MENDELAllow me![He opens the door for her.]VERA [Hesitating, struck by his manners, struggling with her anti-Jewish prejudice]It—it—was your son I wanted.MENDEL [His face lighting up]You mean my nephew, David. Yes, he gives violin lessons.[He closes the door.]VERAOh, is he your nephew?MENDELI am sorry he is out—he, too, has so many pupils, though at the moment he is only at the Crippled Children's Home—playing to them.VERAHow lovely of him![Touched and deciding to conquer her prejudice]But that's just what I came about—I mean we'd like him to play again at our Settlement. Please ask him why he hasn't answered Miss Andrews's letter.MENDEL [Astonished]He hasn't answered your letter?VERAOh, I'm not Miss Andrews; I'm only her assistant.MENDELI see—Kathleen, whatever are you doing under the table?[Kathleen, in her hunting around for the candlestick, is now stooping and lifting up the table-cloth.]KATHLEENSure the fiend's after witching away the candleshtick.MENDEL [Embarrassed]The candlestick? Oh—I—I think you'll find it in my bedroom.KATHLEENWisha, now![She goes into his bedroom.]MENDEL [Turning apologetically to Vera]I beg your pardon, Miss Andrews, I mean Miss—er——VERARevendal.MENDEL [Slightly more interested]Revendal? Then you must be the Miss Revendal David told me about!VERA [Blushing]Why, he has only seen me once—the time he played at our Roof-Garden Concert.MENDELYes, but he was so impressed by the way you handled those new immigrants—the Spirit of the Settlement, he called you.VERA [Modestly]Ah, no—Miss Andrews is that. And you will tell him to answer her letter at once, won't you, because there's only a week now to our Concert.[A gust of wind shakes the windows. She smiles.]Naturally it will not be on the Roof Garden.MENDEL [Half to himself]Fancy David not saying a word about it to me! Are you sure the letter was mailed?VERAI mailed it myself—a week ago. And even in New York——[She smiles. Re-enter Kathleen with the recovered candlestick.]KATHLEENBedad, ye're as great a shleep-walker as Mr. David![She places the candlestick on the table and moves toward her bedroom.]MENDELKathleen!KATHLEEN [Pursuing her walk without turning]I'm not here!MENDELDid you take in a letter for Mr. David about a week ago?[Smiling at Miss Revendal]He doesn't get many, you see.KATHLEEN [Turning]A letter? Sure, I took in ounly a postcard from Miss Johnson, an' that ounly sayin'——VERAAnd you don't remember a letter—a large letter—last Saturday—with the seal of our Settlement?KATHLEENLast Saturday wid a seal, is it? Sure, how could I forgit it?MENDELThen you did take it in?KATHLEENYe're wrong entirely. 'Twas the misthress took it in.MENDEL [To Vera]I am sorry the boy has been so rude.KATHLEENBut the misthress didn't give it him at wanst—she hid it away bekaz it was Shabbos.MENDELOh, dear—and she has forgotten to give it to him. Excuse me.[He makes a hurried exit to the kitchen.]KATHLEENAnd excuse me—I've me thrunk to pack.[She goes toward her bedroom, pauses at the door.]And ye'll witness I don't pack the candleshtick.[Emphatic exit.]VERA [Still dazed]A Jew! That wonderful boy a Jew!... But then so was David the shepherd youth with his harp and his psalms, the sweet singer in Israel.[She surveys the room and its contents with interest. The windows rattle once or twice in the rising wind. The light gets gradually less. She picks up the huge Hebrew tome on the piano and puts it down with a slight smile as if overwhelmed by the weight of alien antiquity. Then she goes over to the desk and picks up the printed music.]Mendelssohn's Concerto, Tartini's Sonata in G Minor, Bach's Chaconne...[She looks up at the book-rack.]"History of the American Commonwealth," "Cyclopædia of History," "History of the Jews"—he seems very fond of history. Ah, there's Shelley and Tennyson.[With surprise]Nietzsche next to the Bible? No Russian books apparently——[Re-enter Mendel triumphantly with a large sealed letter.]MENDELHere it is! As it came on Saturday, my mother was afraid David would open it!VERA [Smiling]But what can you do with a letter except open it? Any more than with an oyster?MENDEL [Smiling as he puts the letter on David's desk]To a pious Jew letters and oysters are alike forbidden—at least letters may not be opened on our day of rest.VERAI'm sure I couldn't rest till I'd opened mine.[Enter from the kitchen Frau Quixano, defending herself with excited gesticulation. She is an old lady with a black wig, but her appearance is dignified, venerable even, in no way comic. She speaks Yiddish exclusively, that being largely the language of the Russian Pale.]FRAU QUIXANOObber ich hob gesogt zu Kathleen——MENDEL [Turning and going to her]Yes, yes, mother, that's all right now.FRAU QUIXANO [In horror, perceiving her Hebrew book on the floor, where Kathleen has dropped it]Mein Buch![She picks it up and kisses it piously.]MENDEL [Presses her into her fireside chair]Ruhig, ruhig, Mutter![To Vera]She understands barely a word of English—she won't disturb us.VERAOh, but I must be going—I was so long finding the house, and look! it has begun to snow![They both turn their heads and look at the falling snow.]MENDELAll the more reason to wait for David—it may leave off. He can't be long now. Do sit down.[He offers a chair.]FRAU QUIXANO [Looking round suspiciously]Wos will die Shikseh?VERAWhat does your mother say?MENDEL [Half-smiling]Oh, only asking what your heathen ladyship desires.VERATell her I hope she is well.MENDELDas Fräulein hofft dass es geht gut——FRAU QUIXANO [Shrugging her shoulders in despairing astonishment]Gut? Un' wie soll es gut gehen—in Amerika![She takes out her spectacles, and begins slowly polishing and adjusting them.]VERA [Smiling]I understood that last word.MENDELShe asks how can anything possibly go well in America!VERAAh, she doesn't like America.MENDEL [Half-smiling]Her favourite exclamation is "A Klog zu Columbessen!"VERAWhat does that mean?MENDELCursed be Columbus!VERA [Laughingly]Poor Columbus! I suppose she's just come over.MENDELOh, no, it must be ten years since I sent for her.VERAReally! But your nephew was born here?MENDELNo, he's Russian too. But please sit down, you had better get his answer at once.[Vera sits.]VERAI suppose you taught him music.MENDELI? I can't play the violin. He is self-taught. In the Russian Pale he was a wonder-child. Poor David! He always looked forward to coming to America; he imagined I was a famous musician over here. He found me conductor in a cheap theatre—a converted beer-hall.VERAWas he very disappointed?MENDELDisappointed? He was enchanted! He is crazy about America.VERA [Smiling]Ah, he doesn't curse Columbus.MENDELMy mother came with her life behind her: David with his life before him. Poor boy!VERAWhy do you say poor boy?MENDELWhat is there before him here but a terrible struggle for life? If he doesn't curse Columbus, he'll curse fate. Music-lessons and dance-halls, beer-halls and weddings—every hope and ambition will be ground out of him, and he will die obscure and unknown.[His head sinks on his breast, Frau Quixano is heard faintly sobbing over her book. The sobbing continues throughout the scene.]VERA [Half rising]You have made your mother cry.MENDELOh, no—she understood nothing. She always cries on the eve of the Sabbath.VERA [Mystified, sinking back into her chair]Always cries? Why?MENDEL [Embarrassed]Oh, well, a Christian wouldn't understand——VERAYes I could—do tell me!MENDELShe knows that in this great grinding America, David and I must go out to earn our bread on Sabbath as on week-days. She never says a word to us, but her heart is full of tears.VERAPoor old woman. It was wrong of us to ask your nephew to play at the Settlement for nothing.MENDEL [Rising fiercely]If you offer him a fee, he shall not play. Did you think I was begging of you?VERAI beg your pardon——[She smiles.]There, I am begging of you. Sit down, please.MENDEL [Walking away to piano]I ought not to have burdened you with our troubles—you are too young.VERA [Pathetically]I young? If you only knew how old I am!MENDELYou?VERAI left my youth in Russia—eternities ago.MENDELYou know our Russia![