Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Arthur D. Simon

Committee Member

Lawrence H. Schwartz

Committee Member

Daniel R. Bronson


The theme of death as a catalyst for the protagonist’s political awakening at the end of Jews Without Money has never been evaluated as a central idea in Michael Gold’s autobiographical novel. This paper focuses on Gold’s obsession with death through each chapter and how he systematically draws death closer and closer into his own family enclave, until the symbols of death become the symptoms of a decaying society.

Critics through the decades have not recognized the continuity of death as presented in this text. Alfred Kazin, Alan Wald, Marcus Klein, even Michael Folsom, who had a first-hand relationship with Gold, limit their evaluation to individual chapters, all with the intent of dismissing Mikey’s sudden conversion to social revolution in the last few paragraphs because, in their opinion, there is no consistent theme present in the text. Their prejudiced criticism may have been caused by Michael Gold’s commitment to a proletarian literature and a communist agenda that he maintained throughout his life. He was not regarded seriously as a literary artist, and therefore his novel may have not been considered worthy of serious appraisal.

From the stranger in the alley to the crumbled body of his sister, Gold, in each episodic chapter, addresses death and how it affects the community. From ambivalence to heartfelt sorrow, the community has the potential to band together to change the society and create a new culture based on equality for all, but, as Gold reinforces, lack the organization and commitment to change their condition. F or the author, death then becomes a rhetorical devise to rid the world of the current capitalist society and replace it with a new proletarian society - “a garden for the human spirit.” From an alley between the steaming tenements, death removes one of nameless men who prey on each other in the night. Death removes one of many prostitutes who ply their disrespectful trade in full view of the moral members of the community. Death removes two unsupervised children, one at play and one at work as a warning that children are not immune to death’s grasp. Death removes the sick and abused animals that share the space of the ghetto. Death removes religious in the form of a Rabbi. Death removes the menial worker who slaves day in and day out in an airless, lightless room. Gold removes all the icons that represent the helpless poor - those “bound for nowhere” - and replaces them with a vision of hope for a future generation.

Gold’s use of death as a recurrent motif is central to the text and although critics overlook this continuity, Gold did impact the 1930s’ literary community with the book’s success. A recovery of the study of proletarian literature in the twenty-first century has revived interest in proletarian literature of the 1930s - in particular Jews Without Money. New investigation of the text without prejudice reveals that beneath the surface of a simple vibrant, and colorful story, Michael Gold rhetorically buries all the obstacles that stand in the way of a new society for the masses.

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