One of the most enchanting novels in the American literature, the piece by Cahan offers a plunge into the world of the usual. All soaked with the binding routine, always repeating, always the same, the book is a perfect study of human’s nature in terms of everyday life.
Although people tend to be original and outstanding, the routine and the mundane life take them back into the life of the ordinary. With help of the traditional stereotypes, Cahan manages to create the specific nowhere-to-run atmosphere.
It is quite peculiar that all possible stereotypes can be traced at every level in Cahan’s creation, starting from the mundane family life and business relationships up to the stereotypes concerning nationalities and national features of character and behavior. With help of these tiny details, often almost invisible, the author creates the impression of striking reality.
Yet at the same time the reader understands that what Cahan suggests is the mock-reality where everything is a grotesque, and where people watch their reflections in a distorting mirror.
What bursts upon the eye immediately is the traditional idea of various nationalities. For instance, the lead character, Leizer Lipman, is a perfect specimen of a Jew as they are often depicted – living in a foreign country, yet running his small but successful business:
The shop was one of a suite of three rooms on the third floor of a rickety old tenement house on Essex Street, and did the additional duty of the family’s kitchen and dining room. It faced a dingy little courtyard, and was connected by a windowless bedroom with the parlor, which commanded the very heart of the Jewish markets.
Another traditional picture of a national character is Lipman’s wife, Zlate, a woman of East European descent. According to the widespread myth about the Slavonic women, she is rather humble yet hard-working, a real helping hand for her husband.
Another issue which the author touches upon is the prejudices and myths concerning work. Zlate mistakenly gives orders to her husband’s employee, considering the latter her own “errand boy” as well. Creating certain conflict, this small detail sheds the light on the stereotypes learned at the mother’s knee.
Although they could seem absurd to the people of different culture, they are still a part of someone’s life; they are practically a part of someone, to be more precise.
It is obvious that once Zlate or Lipman abandon their prejudices and stereotypes, there will be only empty shell left, not the people, for stereotypes are often what people’s lives depend on.
Another common stereotype which the author considers is the shame of saying sorry. As Lipman decides to apologize to Beile, he feels quite uncomfortable and realizes that he might have no heart to continue what he started:
He armed himself with a fib to explain his conduct. But all in vain; he could not nerve himself up to the terrible meeting. And so day after day passed, each day increasing the barrier to the coveted visit.
With all the wisdom and understanding Cahan approached one of the most significant things in people’s lives, the art of saying “sorry”.
Another tricky issue which Cahan considers as a stereotypical situation is Lipman’s affair. Using the traditional stereotype of relationships between a man in his ripe age and a young woman, Cahan exposes the futility of people’s attempts to make the incompatible come together.
With help of his talent, Cahan makes people’s chronic stereotypes burst like bubbles. Describing the world as it is, bare and unveiled, Cahan makes people see their own silly prejudice. As stereotypes surrender the lead characters, it becomes obvious that the vision of the world can be changed – all that one has to do is to make an attempt.
Cahan, Abraham. A Sweatshop Romance. Ibiblio, n.d., Web. 11 Apr. 2011.