There is a lot that we can learn from people who have experienced history. Bella Spewack, specifically, is a great example of the struggle immigrants endured while trying to survive in America after immigration. Today, it is beneficial to learn about the personal views of people who lived in the past so we can gain a better understanding of how communities today were developed. Reading “Streets”, you can understand what the post immigration life was like in New York in the early years of Bella’s life. Bella included a lot of details in her memoir that allows the reader to understand how difficult life was for an immigrant.
Even though “Streets” was written from the perspective of Bella, we can still rely on her opinions to give us an understanding of the difficulty immigrants faced while starting a new life. Before getting into details about the book, there are items we can notate about the source and whether or not it is trustworthy and reliable to a historian. The book is written by Bella who today is a celebrated author as she is known for her writing of Kiss Me, Kate. This book is a memoir and because it was written by the Bella herself, it would be a primary source of information for research.
This book was written in the point of view of Bella as a child. She describes the events, sounds, and happenings that occur in her childhood. As you look into the actual writing in this memoir, you can gain an understanding of how events effected the people based on how Bella writes about them. There are certain things that she gives details on and others that are left with an open end as if she doesn’t want to note or write about the difficult things she remembers. As you read through the book, you can start to make connections to the basic knowledge we have about Bella.
Early on, as a child is when she first started to take interest in theatrical shows. This led to performing as a child and eventually the writing of plays. Much of the things we learn about Bella and how she grew up can lead us to valuable information in understanding what immigrants endured while trying to make a living in the early 20th century. This book is written in the perspective of Bella as she grows up in the lower east side of New York. We learn of her struggles with friends and living situations as well as how she developed into the celebrated author she is known as today.
The memoir is written in the descriptive style telling readers about the early years of Bella’s childhood from her point of view. This memoir was created when Bella was 22 years old. She wanted the chance to document the struggles she had as a child. There are a many experiences that Bella had that testify to the hardships that a lot of immigrants had as they worked to survive in the big city. For example, Bella describes the constant change and hardships in her living situations. “So on the pretense of having her help me locate my coat and tam o’ shanter, I took her to the wardrobe closet and told her the truth.
She was so stunned that for a moment she could do nothing but stare at me. “You tell me the truth? ” she asked. “She’s got the ribbons too,” I added. This was too much. My mother rushed from me with the tale of my tortures to Miss Fannie and Miss Rachel. “Now, if you can’t trust a religious woman who wears a wig, whom can you trust? ” she tearfully demanded. One of the mothers who had crowded around her told her of a Mrs. Forman who lived in a rear house opposite who would be glad to have us board with her. My mother immediately went to meet Mrs. Forman, who proved to be a little woman of fifty with curling black bangs over her forehead.
She had a long nose and thin little pale lips that she sucked continually. She put her arms around me and asked my mother where she had gotten such a pretty daughter. My mother left me in her care and went to get our belongings from Mrs. Pincus’s basement. ” (Spewack 1996) She gives detail telling of the emotions that were experienced between her and her mother as well as noting the reactions and feelings of the people around her facing the same situation. It is this kind of detail in Bella’s stories that allow us as readers to better understand what it was like to live in the early 1900‘s.
As Bella wrote this memoir, she gave much detail to her personal life and how the past had affected her as well as describing beliefs and actions and feelings that the important people around her experienced. A primary example of this would be the details that she describes her mother went through and the hardships she face while trying to find jobs, an apartment, or even someone to care for and love. Early on, these are all things that most immigrants experienced when trying to start a new life. Another great benefit to reading a book like “Streets” is that you are able to learn about the history of how immigrants lived.
Bella has been very detailed in listing what the local community were like and where she lived. She goes into detail about the lifestyles of other people in her community. As someone who was trying to learn about the hardships of the past, this can be a good source for learning history on a more personal level. Making connections on a personal level, you can begin to understand why certain events happened the way they did. Reading about the lifestyle of an immigrant can also lead us to information on the devastation or tragedy of particular events. Things like World War 1 and how it affected people and their communities.
This is one of the benefits of using and reading a source like Bella’s memoir. Even though “Streets” can be used as a very helpful source of information, there are also other bits of information that we cannot learn from this kind of source. This is not a good source for learning about the development of New York or to understand the higher level of living in the early 20th century. This would not be a very helpful source in learning about the development of technology in the early 1900’s. The limitations of this source are its specificity and focus on one person.
This source is based around Bella as a child which limits us in learning of others in different situations other than her own. Bella was very good at not detailing about others lives and how specific events affected them as well as her, but this is also limited as the information is in her point of view. You could not rely on this source alone if you were to do research on the living styles of all immigrants from the early 1900’s. Regardless of the context that one may use this source for, Bella’s memoir can be used to understand much of the lifestyle a new immigrant might experience.
Reading the book, you begin to get a feel for what it was like living in the lower east side of New York. This can be used as a primary source of information as we are reading Bella’s own words of what life was like as a child in the early 1900’s. This source truly lists life as it was and because of that can be used to draw conclusions of the how immigrants settled into society in the early 20th century. With all of the information you can gather from this book, there is not doubt that it can be used as a source to learn about history.
Spewack, Bella. “Streets: A Memoir of the Lower East Side”. New York, NY: Feminist Press, 1996.