Yezierska’s first job is with an Americanized family who originally came from the same town as she did. The man and his wife both chastise Yezierska for speaking to them of her wages and refuse to pay her.
Like her husband, the Americanized woman belittles Yezierska when she speaks to them of her wages. She tells Yezierska that working for them is like a summer vacation.
Yezierska takes a class at the factory where she works. She confides to her teacher her desire to work with her head, but the teacher treats her like a child and says she needs to learn English first. When Yezierska approaches the teacher again after she has learned to read and write English, the teacher advises her to join a social club run by American women to help young immigrants.
Yezierska’s second job in America is working in a Lower East Side sweatshop. The old woman who runs the shop demands that the women work longer hours. When Yezierska eventually complains, she throws her out of the shop.
Yezierska visits a vocational counselor so she can find out what kind of job will allow her to express the way she feels inside. The counselor, unable to understand what Yezierska wants, advises her to design shirtwaists instead of sewing them. She tells Yezierska that she must rise from job to job slowly and then she will earn more money. The counselor emphasizes the economic aspects of a job over personal fulfillment.
Yezierska narrates “America and I.” She first arrives in the United States filled with optimism about the fulfillment of her creative needs. In America, she will be valued for her thoughts and ideas, not for the work that her hands can perform. When she discovers that few such opportunities are available to her and that she will have to fight to be heard, she questions what America really is and what it means to her. Despite many disappointing experiences, she holds on to her determination to become a writer. Through self-analysis and perseverance, she is able to create a realistic definition of America and to find a place for herself within its culture. At the same time, she achieves her longed-for dream of doing the work she loves: writing.
Carol Ullmann (Editor) Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 15, Published by Gale, 2002.