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An Explication of “Prospective Immigrants Please Note” by Adrienne Rich

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Adrienne Rich Either you will go through this door or you will not go through. If you go through there is always the risk of remembering your name. Things look at you doubly and you must look back and let them happen. If you do not go through it is possible to live worthily to maintain your attitudes to hold your position to die bravely but much will blind you, much will evade you, at what cost who knows? The door itself makes no promises. It is only a door.

A poem by Adrienne Rich, “Prospective Immigrants Please Note”, helps one consider the dual perspective, the mother culture and the American ideals. Rich’s essential goal is to remember your families and origins.

First of all, the title “Prospective Immigrants Please Note” implied an immigrant’s plea to leave their country and go to another country. Upon reading the poem, though, I now see the title as Rich’s plea to immigrants not to forget who, what and where they came from.

Rich’s poem claims either leaves the land or simply stay. “Either you will / go through this door / or you will not go through.” The reason you want to go through the door is to better your conditions for the family and yourself. Nevertheless one has to acknowledge that at a point in her [Rich] life she faced her partly Jewish roots, so this poem could deal with Jews or any people considered the ‘other’ immigrating to another country or just having the guts to open the door and not knowing what is behind. Also the poem focus on the question of identity: is it possible to live in a country and stick to your own beliefs which may not be the beliefs of the majority. With opening the door Rich could also refer to is when she opened the door and acknowledged that she is a lesbian not knowing what the consequences would be.

Rich writes, “If you go through / there is always the risk /of remembering your name.” Remembering one’s name – the antithesis of assimilation to remember tribal affiliations, family, and origin, also this was especially true for Jewish immigrants, who went from using the Hebraic construct “Yitzhak ben Ya`akov” to Isaac or even Ida Jacobs. Adrienne Rich never had to look seriously at her “white roots” because she didn’t have them; she was Jewish. And maintaining attitudes in snot cast in a negative context, but listed with living worthily – she implies that it is good,

Perhaps the difficulty of adapting to a dual perspective with the mother culture and the American ideals is a conflict: “Things look at you doubly / and you must look back / and let them happen.”

“If you don not go through / it is possible / to live worthily” implies, it isn’t necessary to go through the doors to live a fulfilled, complete life. To maintain one’s attitudes and to hold the position, first generation American Jews for instance, found if very difficult to live according to tradition; America gave the freedom to assimilate and most welcomed it. Following the Mosaic Laws was the norm and much easier in the European ghettos.

Rich writes, “To maintain your attitudes / to hold your position / to die bravely”: I see it as uphold your grounds, holding to your culture and your origin. So when the day comes, your “die” the same person you were born. Die “bravely” as the person you are and to the origin you were born into. Rich is referring, “to die bravely” in the pogroms, wars, and gas chambers – the eventual ends of the ones who stayed behind.

Some of the Rabbis taught to immigrate to America was to cease being Jewish since families would assimilate and fade away in a few generations. Many families stayed in Europe because of this, and often only part of the family would come over. This strikes me as another of her poems heavily influenced by the Holocaust – people stayed behind so they wouldn’t cease to exist as Jews and be annihilated. Still they died: “But much will blind you, / much will evade you, / at what cost who knows?”

The metaphor of a door is intensely powerful; the idea of doors I haven’t opened, brushed past on my way to somewhere else, haunts me, always. I don’t know that what I say here is meaningful or insightful, or anything spectacular in any way, but I do know this poem has been one that so resonates with me that it seems a crime to not say something, and I do not want to brush past that door.

I have read this poem a number of times and I believe this poem is about, immigrants and how they have a choice to leave their country or not. I believe “The door makes no promises” means nobody is going to promise you that you are going to have a wonderful, joyous life in the new country, and it is only a door, to go through or not to go through.

Re-examining the title “Prospective Immigrants Please Note”, it becomes clear that the poem addresses “immigrants” to wisely assess the decision of going into another country or just staying. The poet is talking to her Jewish community telling them if you leave your country, don’t forget what happened and if you decide not to go through the door you can still live a fulfilled life. Upon deciding not to leave the country all that is require is maintaining you attitude, standing your ground, dieing bravely. Who knows what will happen next? Going to another country or going through “the door” there are no guarantees, but that it is an option, “it is only a door.”

However there is still a door! There are not many legal doors any more anywhere else! A door without any promise is better than none!!!

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