The term the “melting pot” is a common expression for a vision of the United States in which people from all different groups come together to form the nation. Some have argued that the “melting pot” requires people to assimilate and lose their cultural identity, whereas others see the melting pot as a place where people of different cultural traditions come together and form a new country, each tradition adding new spices to the broth. The latter vision is closer to the idea of integration, a two-way process between society and those acculturating.
The term “melting pot” originates from a 1908 play The Melting Pot written by Israel Zangwill. Editors on PBS summarized the play this way:
Zangwill updates the story of Romeo and Juliet. This time, instead of feuding families in a medieval Italian city, the lovers were from Russian Jewish and Russian Cossack families. Zangwill’s play emphatically claimed that America was a new country where the old hatreds had no place. For the new immigrants in America to try to keep alive their old hatreds and prejudices was pointless, evil, and probably impossible.
Below is the first excerpt. It begins with David sharing his excitement after performing his music at a settlement house for new immigrants.
…I’d pay a fee to see all those happy immigrants you gather together—Dutchmen and Greeks, Poles and Norwegians, Welsh and Armenians. If you only had Jews, it would be as good as going to Ellis Island.
What a strange taste! Who on earth wants to go to Ellis Island?
Oh, I love going to Ellis Island to watch the ships coming in from Europe, and to think that all those weary, sea-tossed wanderers are feeling what I felt when America first stretched out her great mother-hand to me!
Were you very happy?
It was heaven. You must remember that all my life I had heard of America—everybody in our town had friends there or was going there or got money orders from there. The earliest game I played at was selling off my toy furniture and setting up in America. All my life America was waiting, beckoning, shining—the place where God would wipe away tears from off all faces.
[He ends in a half-sob.]
MENDEL [Rises, as in terror]
Now, now, David, don’t get excited.
To think that the same great torch of liberty which threw its light across all the broad seas and lands into my little garret in Russia, is shining also for all those other weeping millions of Europe, shining wherever men hunger and are oppressed——
Yes, yes, David.
[Laying hand on his shoulder]
Now sit down and——
Shining over the starving villages of Italy and Ireland, over the swarming stony cities of Poland and Galicia, over the ruined farms of Roumania, over the shambles of Russia——
Oh, Miss Revendal, when I look at our Statue of Liberty, I just seem to hear the voice of America crying: “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest—rest——”
[He is now almost sobbing.]
Don’t talk any more—you know it is bad for you.
But Miss Revendal asked—and I want to explain to her what America means to me.
You can explain it in your American symphony.
VERA [Eagerly—to David]
Oh, uncle, why did you talk of—? Uncle always—my music is so thin and tinkling. When I am writing my American symphony, it seems like thunder crashing through a forest full of bird songs. But next day—oh, next day!
[He laughs dolefully and turns away.]
So your music finds inspiration in America?
Yes—in the seething of the Crucible.
The Crucible? I don’t understand!
Not understand! You, the Spirit of the Settlement!
[He rises and crosses to her and leans over the table, facing her.]
Not understand that America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and re-forming! Here you stand, good folk, think I, when I see them at Ellis Island, here you stand
[Graphically illustrating it on the table]
in your fifty groups, with your fifty languages and histories, and your fifty blood hatreds and rivalries. But you won’t be long like that, brothers, for these are the fires of God you’ve come to—these are the fires of God. A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians—into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American.
I should have thought the American was made already—eighty millions of him.
[He smiles toward Vera in good-humoured derision.]
Eighty millions! Over a continent! Why, that cockleshell of a Britain has forty millions! No, uncle, the real American has not yet arrived. He is only in the Crucible, I tell you—he will be the fusion of all races, perhaps the coming superman….
Below are the final few lines from the play along with the stage directions.
…[They stand quietly hand in hand.]
Look! How beautiful the sunset is after the storm!
[David turns. The sunset, which has begun to grow beautiful just after Vera’s entrance, has now reached its most magnificent moment; below there are narrow lines of saffron and pale gold, but above the whole sky is one glory of burning flame.]
DAVID [Prophetically exalted by the spectacle]
It is the fires of God round His Crucible.
[He drops her hand and points downward.]
There she lies, the great Melting Pot—listen! Can’t you hear the roaring and the bubbling? There gapes her mouth
[He points east]
—the harbour where a thousand mammoth feeders come from the ends of the world to pour in their human freight. Ah, what a stirring and a seething! Celt and Latin, Slav and Teuton, Greek and Syrian,—black and yellow——
VERA [Softly, nestling to him]
Jew and Gentile——
Yes, East and West, and North and South, the palm and the pine, the pole and the equator, the crescent and the cross—how the great Alchemist melts and fuses them with his purging flame! Here shall they all unite to build the Republic of Man and the Kingdom of God. Ah, Vera, what is the glory of Rome and Jerusalem where all nations and races come to worship and look back, compared with the glory of America, where all races and nations come to labour and look forward!
[He raises his hands in benediction over the shining city.]
Peace, peace, to all ye unborn millions, fated to fill this giant continent—the God of our children give you Peace.
[An instant’s solemn pause. The sunset is swiftly fading, and the vast panorama is suffused with a more restful twilight, to which the many-gleaming lights of the town add the tender poetry of the night. Far back, like a lonely, guiding star, twinkles over the darkening water the torch of the Statue of Liberty. From below comes up the softened sound of voices and instruments joining in “My Country, ’tis of Thee.” The curtain falls slowly.]