Slumming America: Exploring Childhood Experiences in Nineteenth Century New York City

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in English


Department of English


Advisor: Meredith Doench


How does American citizen rhetoric affect the immigrant, particularly the immigrant child in the 1880s? How large of an impact does the exploitation of poverty and ethnicity have on those who occupy the slums of different time and place? These are a couple important questions that this creative piece attempts to answer through critical analysis and research on late nineteenth century New York City. "Where We Call Home" explores slumming experiences through the lens of children and their understanding of the world around them. This work explores children's reactions to the environment they are placed in, forced to confront issues such as poverty, identity, and immigration in The Gilded Age. June, a wealthy thirteen-year-old finds herself lost in the slum of Lower Manhattan where Amerigo, an Italian American boy who calls the slum his home, agrees to help her. Through their experiences together, June questions her upbringing and the anti-immigrant rhetoric she's been taught by her parents. In the end, it is June's life as an upper-class white American that fails to provide her with a familial connection, while Amerigo shows her that wealth is not an indicator of happiness. Through the use of historical fiction as an educational tool, the themes and social issues explored in this creative piece help shine a spotlight on current issues of immigration, ethnicity, and racism that are still prevalent in the United States today. By providing an alternative way to understand and evaluate history, historical fiction is able to transcend the boundaries of time by providing connections and opportunities for change in the modern era.


American History, American Literature, slumming, immigration, nineteenth-century, poverty, child labor, upper-class, working class, New York City

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