From The Jazz Singer to an American Girl: The Turn of the Century Jewish Immigrant in American Popular Culture Open Access

Flombaum, Michal Sarah (2010)

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From The Jazz Singer to an American Girl:
The Turn of the Century Jewish Immigrant in American Popular Culture
By Michal Sarah Flombaum

This thesis explores the use of turn of the century Jewish immigrant characters in American popular culture. By looking at a classical Hollywood example of the first milestone in sound film and elements from value driven children's media later in the 20th century, I demonstrate how Jewish elements of the immigrant characters' identities are minimized when the character in the product is meant to relate to a mass American audience. The fact that both the musical film and children's media are supposed to be universal genres forms the basis for this comparison. In analyzing Alan Crosland's 1927 film The Jazz Singer, I use the film's adaptation from a play, its production context and producers, and its style and form to reach the conclusion that the religious elements in the film are only a foil to the main character's Americanization. Likewise, the animated children's film An American Tail reveals once again how a Jewish producer complies with American conventions in making a film about immigration in which the main character must deviate from his Jewish roots to become American. Barbara Cohen's illustrated storybook Molly's Pilgrims demonstrates how immigration narratives can turn into assimilation narratives absent from religion through censorship, and American Girl Doll's character brand Rebecca Rubin reinforces that religion in immigration stories can only exist when the product is for a Jewish segmented audience. This Jewish American segment then seems separate in modern American society rather than included. Based on this trend, I conclude that the use of Jewish characters in immigration narratives tends to form a dangerous model immigrant that easily leaves her culture, religion, and ethnicity behind in her Americanization. Thus, the turn of the century Jewish immigration narrative forms a plot device, a tool for popular culture with which to further ideals of the American Dream for immigrants.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction - 1
Method - 2
Results - 6

Section One: The Jazz Singer's Evolution as a Jewish Immigrant - 8
Roots - 9
Journey - 18
Arrival - 27

Section Two: Learning from Feivel, Molly, and Rebecca - 31
An American Tail - 31
Molly's Pilgrim - 39
Rebecca Rubin, American Girl - 46

Conclusion - 57

Works Cited - 61

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