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As Father departs on his Arctic journey, his ship passes a ship of immigrants headed to America.As he gazes across the faces of the new citizens, we are told that he "suddenly foundered in his soul." (12) It is odd that the thought of foreigners moving to America had such a dramatic effect on Father.What follows quickly after is the voice of truth and reason in the text, expressed through the fictional re-representation of the anarchist Emma Goldman, who shows white culture that "Apparently there were Negroes. Despite this laudable cultural advancement, the author's meaning of the term "immigrant" takes place within a very limited context.
Father thinks to himself that "there was no reason the Negro could not with proper guidance carry every burden of human achievement," however we do know that Father looked poorly upon Coalhouse for being as successful as a white man.Still, he does not make that connection and he only sees this ship of people representing a change that is out of his control.Even the most trivial changes to society elicit a strong disapproval by Father.Washington, and the Eastern European immigrant community is given a rich and touching voice through "Tateh" and his daughter, Doctorow never ventured far enough along to include Asians in his spectrum of ethnic narrative.Just like the "Oriental silk cushions" that made Houdini feel so trapped in Father's home, they are deprived of a true voice.The reader quickly learns that Father judges these people for the simple reason that he feels that they are going to change his country in some way or another.The irony of Father's reaction is that practically all citizens of the United States arrived as immigrants from other countries, and it is likely that Father's parents moved to America shortly before he was born.Great lengths are taken by Doctorow to empathize with the Eastern European immigrant community.With great emotion, he describes Father's impression of an immigrant ship, decidedly of a European identity because of the head shawls that the women wore (Doctorow 14).Whether the lapses into feelings of cultural superiority originate from the purposeful portrayal of the characters Doctorow created or without the author's conscious prior awareness, a careful reading of the text will reveal them.In this way, these same assumptions and prejudices test our There were no immigrants" (Doctorow 4).