There is no doubt that many immigrants would in time achieve great success, but for many more, the immigrant experience was a long, hard process of work in primary industries and ‘sweat shops,’ often a process which eventually saw success with the next generation, through the education of the children who would not have to live by manual labor alone.
John Bodnar argues that there was great diversity in the experiences of immigrants: “… varying degrees of commitment to an assortment of cultures and ideologies were evident.
For example, the adoption of, or learning about, an American way of life may also involve the painful and disturbing dismantling of earlier modes of existence.
That is not to say that such a ‘dismantling’ does not take place in the standard autobiography or bildungsroman, rather that it is a profoundly important component of the immigrant narratives, which focus not so much upon the construction of identity as the reconstruction of identity.
The industries of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century America needed a vast labor force who would work for relatively low wages (although these wages need to be put into the context of lands left behind, where poverty and even lower incomes were often the norm).
Immigrant Experience.” In Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. America is a land of immigrants: they are the driving force of the economy, bringing intense ambition, a hunger to better oneself, a willingness to work, and most of all a relentless self-motivation that can be expressed in diverse ways, from the results of raw labor to those of education and cultural expression. But for a time, it was so-called primary industries such as the manufacture of steel and the associated consumer products that were of importance. Many of these industries are no longer essential today, being replaced by cheaper production elsewhere in the Developing World or having simply been superseded by the importance to the US economy of more advanced technologies such as the production of computer software.Many of these narratives are autobiographical or ‘pseudo-autobiographical,’ that is to say, crossing the boundaries between fact and fiction.The fictional genre that is most closely related to such autobiographical writing is that of the bildungsroman, or novel of education and development. a novel which describes the protagonist's development from childhood to maturity.” He cites as famous examples Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship and Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.that is the central fact about housing in the industrial areas: not that the houses are poky and ugly, and insanitary and comfortless, or that they are distributed in incredibly filthy slums around belching foundries and stinking canals and slag-heaps that deluge them with sulphurous smoke …but simply that there are not enough houses to go round.” Industrialization in European countries may have lead to higher wages, but not necessarily an improved standard of living; in Britain, for example, the various Enclosures Acts meant that many people were forced from the land into the cities and it was this loss of lifestyle that lead to deprivation; even in the previous poverty of rural life, access to freshly grown food or illegally hunted game, for example, was sometimes to be had.The psychology of emigration from one's ancient homeland is complex: decisions may be based upon a mixture of fact and fiction.One fact was that the cost of travel to the US decreased significantly during the period of the Great Migration.…” Immigrants came from vastly different economic, political and religious backgrounds, expressing these differences upon arrival in the United States: “Some individuals pursued modern forms of life and livelihood while others valued more traditional patterns.Workers existed who championed socialism and others died for their attachment to Catholicism.