This paper seeks to analyze an immigrant’s autobiographical narrative in order to trace manifestations of self-discovery and construction of hybrid identity emanating from cultural encounter. With this objective, I will look at Mary Antin’s autobiography The Promised Land, first published in 1912, which is not a random recall of events but a selective and structured exercise of memory by which the writer addresses the complexities and dialectical tensions inherent in the process of accommodating a new hybridized self.
Mary Antin, a native of Polotzk in Russia, immigrated to America with her family in 1894 at the age of thirteen. A rough overview of Antin’s autobiography, significantly entitled The Promised Land, offers a classic tale of assimilation that would appeal to the imagination of diverse immigrant groups, for it relates the transformation of a religious Jewish child into free-thinking American citizen. A closer look at her autobiographical pursuit reveals, however, that she becomes an American whose roots are situated in Jewish culture. Her recollections mediate and reshape the ethos of her culture of origin; as such she provides a double voyage of discovery, both outward and inward that merge into each other. In what follows, I will try to explore her recollections as a site of encounter between two different cultures that operate in multiple directions fertilizing each other.