Loyola University Chicago

John Felice Rome Center

Litr 299 / ints 299 comparative literature: the immigrant experience


Tuesday and Thursday  2:20-3:35 PM  -  Room GL1


Professor: Dr. Flaminio Di Biagi  Office: Rm 127 (Tel. 333; e-mail: fdibiag@luc.edu)

Office Hours: Tue. 6:00-7:00 PM - Thu. 12:10-1:10 PM (and by appointment)


If there were no Italians in America, the country would look, sound, smell, feel, and indeed be very different. It would be a lot worse: the music and movies would be flat, the buildings would be blocky, the food would be tasteless, and there would be nobody to root for from the bleachers.


This course will analyze the “close encounter” between emigrants of Italian (or any European) origin and the American society at the turn of the XX century. Students will be exposed to Historical, Sociological, Literary, Cinematic, Cultural studies, and will be requested to develop a final on-field research taking advantage of their stay in Italy (see: Final Paper). The Goal is to learn about the building of the New World by appreciating the various contributions of European migrants, and use the time spent in Italy to find cultural roots/legacy. Texts or movies are all in English. See the day-by-day “Program”.



Attendance is a must. Be aware that your absence will not only weaken your performance, but also influence your grade: unexcused absences will lower your final grade at each missed class. Students should be familiar with the honor code of University life, abide by its standards at all times, and expect similar behavior from their peers. Students are expected to come to each class well prepared, and having read textbooks. Assigned material and pages should be read thoroughly for the class day indicated. During lectures all are expected to pay attention, take notes, and then contribute to the following in-class discussion. Two films will be only shown once, in class. This course satisfies an Intensive Writing requirement.



Final Grade is actually the result of reading texts, attending classes, studying, “being alive and thinking”. Anyhow the following scale & percentages will be used to determine the student’s grade: SCALE: A = 100-96  A- = 95-93  B+ = 92-91  B = 90-87  B- 86-85  C+ = 84-83  C = 82-79  C- = 78-77  D+ = 76-75  D = 74-72  D- = 71-70  F = Below 70; PERCENTAGES: Midterm exam: 15% - Final exam: 20% - Papers: 20% - Extra novel paper: 10% - Extra film review: 10% - Final Paper: 20% - Class discussion /participation: 5%.



Jerre Mangione - Ben Morreale, La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian American Experience, New York, Harper Perennial, 1992; other photocopied handouts might be distributed in class, & these will also be considered study texts. Optional bibliography will be “on reserve” at the circulation desk of the LURC Library, under the Instructor’s name. Students are strongly recommended to often refer to these texts as well:

  • -Amfitheatrof, Erik: The Children of Columbus, 1973
  • -Barolini, Helen: The Dream Book: an Anthology of Writings by Italian American Women, 1985
  • -Barzini, Luigi: The Italians, 1965
  • -Di Biagi, Flaminio: Italian-American Writers, Notes for a Wider Categorization, 1987
  • -Handlin, Oscar: The Uprooted, 1951
  • -Lourdeaux, Lee: Italian and Irish Filmmakers in America, 1990
  • -Fred Gardaphé: Leaving Little Italy, 2004
  • -Riis, Jacob: How the Other Half Lives, 1890
  • -Schoener, Allon: The Italian Americans, 1987.

Among the many web sites, students may find the following particularly useful for background information: Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_Americans), and N.I.A.F. (http://www.niaf.org/).

Students will be requested to read two novels: the first will be commonly read and discussed by the entire class: Mario Puzo: The Fortunate Pilgrim; the second will be selected by the individual student among the following titles:

  • Mario Puzo: The Godfather;
  • Helen Barolini: Umbertina;
  • Guido D’Agostino: Olives on the Apple Tree;
  • Pascal D’Angelo: Son of Italy;
  • John Fante: Dago Red, or The Brotherhood of Wine, or Wait Until Spring Bandini;
  • Pietro Di Donato: Christ in Concrete;
  • Angelo Pellegrini, American Dream.
  • Jerre Mangione: Night Search, or Mount Allegro.

Similarly, students will be requested to see three movies: two will be commonly watched and discussed by the entire class: Saturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1977) and Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980); the third will be selected by the individual student among the following titles:

  • The Godfather (Francis F. Coppola, 1972);
  • Moonstruck (Norman Jewison, 1987);
  • Summer of Sam (Spike Lee, 1995);
  • Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989);
  • Mac (John Turturro, 1992);
  • 29th Street (George Gallo, 1991);
  • Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1972).



Film or novel reviews must be 2-3 pages long (Times New Roman, font 12, double-spaced). Students are requested to use a scholarly tone and proper vocabulary. Reviews are not a summary of the film/novel, but a personalized “reading” (i.e. a critical interpretation and evaluation). Reports must also be 2-3 pages long (Times New Roman, font 12, double-spaced) and need to include basic, essential (possibly exhaustive) information about the selected theme. Criticism or reports should be grounded on both personal assessments and specific, accurate academic sources.



To write Paper #2 and #3 students can select two among the following topics:

  • A) The padrone system
  • B) Recruiting emigrant in the Old World (agents and navigation companies)
  • C) Changing names to English, how, why, and who (Johnny Desmond, Frankie Laine, Willie
  •      Pep, Lou Little, Jordan Oliver, Ann Bancroft, Charles Atlas, etc.)
  • D) Church, religion (the Irish clergy, Scalabrinians, First Churches, Protestant Missions, Processions,   Saints, etc.)
  • E) The Italian press in USA
  • F) Swindles and tricks against the Emigrants (Sciascia)
  • G) Political radicalism (anarchists, Paterson, Milwaukee, Sacco & Vanzetti)
  • H) Unions, strikes, work-related associations
  • I) Italian banks, mutual help organizations, regional associations
  • L) Italians in the Far West, during the Frontier days (ex. Siringo)
  • M) Italian women in the New World
  • N) Mafia and crime
  • O) Italians in American wars
  • P) Assimilation vs. melting pot (schools, values, etc)
  • Q) The image and the stereotypes of Italians in American media/perception (La
  •     Gumina, Shark by Spielberg, cartoons, etc.)
  • R) Italian sense of humor (jokes, ironic self-portrayals, funny stories)
  • S) Hostility & prejudices, native resentment (know-nothing, prison camps in WWII)
  • T) Lynchings and accidents
  • U) The “language” (slang, jargon, terms)
  • V) Little Italy, Italian colonies or districts

To write Paper #7 students can select one among the following topics:

  • A) The marionette theatre                                 
  • B) Italian American Theatre/stage
  • C) Images on screen (directors, actors, etc.)      
  • D) Italian Opera in USA
  • E) The “crooners”                                              
  • F) Contemporary writers
  • G) Sports                                                          
  • H) Foods, restoration, food industry
  • I) Linguistical influences                                   
  • L) Fashion, lifestyle, etc.
  • M) The artists (from marble cutters to Brumidi, Stella, Fasanella, De Niro Sr., etc)
  • N) Music (the “sceneggiata”, Vitagraph in NY, jazz, Nick La Rocca, Vincent Scotto,etc)

Or one of the following famous/significant people:

Christopher Columbus, Antonio Meucci, Constantine Brumidi, Palma di Cesnola, Philip Mazzei, Joe Di Maggio, Frank Sinatra, father Kino, Tonti, Marco Fontana, Amedeo Giannini, Sacco & Vanzetti, Enrico Fermi, Al Capone, Fiorello La Guardia, Rudolph Giuliani, Rocky Marciano, Frances Cabrini, Sister Segale, Mario Lanza, Salvatore Ferragamo, Joe Petrosino, Martin Scorsese, Frank Capra, Carlo Tresca, Figgin, Robert Mondavi, John Martin, Rosa Zagnoni Marimoni, Fred Gardaphé...

Or important places: Tontitown, Roseto, ect.


The requested Final Paper is to be a report on any field trip selected and done by the student. Field trips must be related to the immigrant experience, and can include: Museo Emigrazione in Gualdo Tadino, Museo Joe Petrosino in Padula, Amedeo Giannini’s Birth House in Liguria, Museo del Mare in Genova, Museo Beltrami in Filottrano, Family Ancestral home villages and areas, Specialized Study Centers, Memorials, Cemeteries, Monuments, interviews with field scholars, etc. Students should discuss with the instructor before planning their trip. These Final Papers should develop an analysis in 5-7 pages (Times New Roman, font 12, double-spaced).



(Note: this program is tentative, subject to improvements, changes and students’ contributions.)

January 15, Thu: syllabus, intro., requirements; discoverers & explorers [p.3-8]; early pioneers;

January 20, Tue: the great migration 1880-1924 (quota acts); [8-27]; situation in Italy (society, Unification, living conditions, the South) [31-40] [45-50] [54-64]; clip: The Tree of Wooden Clogs (Olmi, 1978)

[January 21, Wednesday: (tentative) afternoon visit to Casa della Memoria in Trastevere;]

January 22, Thu: departure, traveling (directions, conditions) [67-85] [86-104]; The Immigrant (Chaplin, 1917);

January 27, Tue: PAPER 1 DUE: Review of film OR Summary of info so far; arrival & settling;Little Italies; statistics; jobs & trades [104-148]; clip: Godfather II (Coppola, 1974);

January 29, Thu: crime, role of women [149-159; 160-178; extra photocopies; 241-264; 335-340; 343-351];

February 3, Tue: religion, Church, relationship with other ethnics, politics, 325-335, 267-290

February 5, Thu: PAPER 2 DUE: report on any given themes; in-class rep. on selected themes;

[February 6, Friday: (tentative) one-day excursion to Peasant Museum in Viterbo;]

February 10, Tue: PAPER 3 DUE: report on any given themes; in-class rep. on selected themes;

February 12, Thu: introduction to Italian-American Literature, issues, themes, hyphenation, etc;

February 17, Tue: Mario Puzo, The Fortunate Pilgrim, class discussion;

February 19, Thu: Mario Puzo, The Fortunate Pilgrim, class discussion;

February 24, Tue: QUIZ 1 on Fortunate Pilgrim; more class discussion on It-Am literature;

February 26, Thu: individual in-class reports on 2nd selected novel

March 3, Tue: PAPER 4 DUE: Review of selected extra Italian-American novel; recap;

March 5, Thu: Midterm Exam

March 6 - March 15: SPRING BREAK

March 17, Tue: recap; Italian-Americans in Hollywood and on screen;

March 19, Thu: Saturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1977);

March 24, Tue: Saturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1977); class discussion;

March 26, Thu: PAPER 5 DUE: Review of film; class discussion;

[March 30, Monday: (tentative) extra Italian-American film projection, open to everyone;]

March 31, Tue: Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980);

April 2, Thu: Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980); class discussion;

April 7, Tue: QUIZ 2 on Italian-American Film; legacies; Food; Opera [tentative: guest speaker];

April 9, Thu: PAPER 6 DUE: Review of selected extra film; in-class discus. on extra films;

April 10 - 13: EASTER

April 14, Tue: Italian-Americans now; the new “immigrant”; recent figures & developments;

April 16, Thu: PAPER 7 DUE: report on selected It-Am characters or achievements; in-class reports on significant chapters; positive outcomes; influences and presences in Italy;

April 21, Tue: coming home: the immigrants’ return; [tentative: guest speaker]

April 23, Thu: class findings (monuments, museums, curiosities, etc.); individual reports on Final Papers; conclusions and recap;

April 28, Tuesday: Final Exam (GL1 9:00-11:00 AM)