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Hair is used in Abraham Cahan's Tale of Yekl and the New York Ghetto to depict to readers the question of Jewish ethnicity and assimilation into contemporary multiculturalism of a minority ethnic group into the American world. Cahan uses hair as a metaphor to show a lot of details that we readers will use to examine his story of Yekl as the clear challenges immigrants encounter in their search for the American dream. Cahan uses hair to show how Jake who is formerly Yekl in Jewish, struggles to fit in the American culture by having a 'clean shaved head' and speaks Yiddish which reveals that New York embraces its inhabitants who share and live in the multicultural city. However, Jake's ability to fit in the modernized city does not allow him to change fully into the American culture. We see him through the chapters when he open's the cloak shop door, and the narrator describes him to be cleanly shaven as he insisted on communicating in Yiddish more than the other Jewish people. His ambition to be assimilated as an American-American is defined by the fact that he is Jew which reminds us that being a Jew is not only a religion but a culture where if you were born with it runs in your genes "the Jewish boss having a shaggy black beard."
Jakes wife (Gilt) comes to New York as a complete Jew, in this tale, the Narrator uses hair to show us how minorities admire America and whenever they would get there their first instinct is to get assimilated. Assimilation there means that an individual change his/her way of doing things and adopts new ideas that the new environment provides. In Yekl, Cahan portrays Gilt as a woman who when she came into the States to live with her husband was social and interacted with many people of whom they boarded the same house, worked, and socially hanged out with the husband. It is through one's socially ability that we learn and acquire individual characters that the people of the new culture embrace. Gilt sacrifices her Jewish culture and hairstyle personally to try and please her loved one "Jake" which makes her eventually displaced and dismembered only to fall subject to the modern culture of the New York people.
Through Gilt's hair, the narrator shockingly reveals the struggle and confusion that immigrants especially the Jewish undergo when Jake goes to meet her wife before the divorce in chapter four. We see Mrs. Kavarsky make Gilt's hair according to the fashion style the Americans do. The cut and the wig that was in his wife's head disappointed him describing her to have dressed slovenly and covered her hair under a "voluminous wig" (33-34). It is at this incidence that the author tells us that many Jewish were committed to assimilating into the American community of which Jake was a good example and this act of assimilation would mostly leave them in a complicated state due to the indistinguishability of the Jewish traditional faith and practices.
In the entire tale, the author has used humor continuously to relay his theme of humor to the readers until when Jake's reaction upon meeting his wife and seeing the hairstyle that the theme of humor changes. His wife's appearance also makes him regret and remind him of how he did not want her to come to New York soon. Cahan shows us his regressive moment when Jake's eyes caught Gilt's sight, and his face was averted making him feel sick in front of the crowd at the station, and he wished her immigration papers would have stayed longer before they could allow her to visit and stay with him in America.
The hair on the other hand shows how the American people are proud of their own cultures and belief. When Mrs. Kavarsy styles Gilt's hair, she also helped her to assimilate to the American culture entirely but at no single point do we see her or any other American assimilating or practicing the different ethnic cultures. The author of this tale relentlessly portrays the pride and self-confident that the American people have in their systems. In real life, this is a belief and stereotype that many people globally dream of westernization and through immigration, people from all over the world desire to go to the United States and do what the Americans do of which the opposite never happens. Does it mean that there is no other good in the other ethnic communities? A definite "No." That is why we see throughout Yekl the Jews struggling to change their way of life to fit into the Americans, scientifically it is explained as a means of human natural selection and adaptability to learn and survive in new environments. We all see this pride as Jake walked on the pavement in Suffolk Street where he met many an American crowd and describes them to be having dump-hair and the stocky professor to have coarse, curly hair.
Cahan, Abraham. Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto. litr 5731. Web. 2012.
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