Story type: Essay
Is it possible for a person to be entirely naturalized?–that is, to be denationalized, to cast off the prejudice and traditions of one country and take up those of another; to give up what may be called the instinctive tendencies of one race and take up those of another. It is easy enough to swear off allegiance to a sovereign or a government, and to take on in intention new political obligations, but to separate one’s self from the sympathies into which he was born is quite another affair. One is likely to remain in the inmost recesses of his heart an alien, and as a final expression of his feeling to hoist the green flag, or the dragon, or the cross of St. George. Probably no other sentiment is, so strong in a man as that of attachment to his own soil and people, a sub-sentiment always remaining, whatever new and unbreakable attachments he may form. One can be very proud of his adopted country, and brag for it, and fight for it; but lying deep in a man’s nature is something, no doubt, that no oath nor material interest can change, and that is never naturalized. We see this experiment in America more than anywhere else, because here meet more different races than anywhere else with the serious intention of changing their nationality. And we have a notion that there is something in our atmosphere, or opportunities, or our government, that makes this change more natural and reasonable than it has been anywhere else in history. It is always a surprise to us when a born citizen of the United States changes his allegiance, but it seems a thing of course that a person of any other country should, by an oath, become a good American, and we expect that the act will work a sudden change in him equal to that wrought in a man by what used to be called a conviction of sin. We expect that he will not only come into our family, but that he will at once assume all its traditions and dislikes, that whatever may have been his institutions or his race quarrels, the moving influence of his life hereafter will be the “Spirit of ’76.”
What is this naturalization, however, but a sort of parable of human life? Are we not always trying to adjust ourselves to new relations, to get naturalized into a new family? Does one ever do it entirely? And how much of the lonesomeness of life comes from the failure to do it! It is a tremendous experiment, we all admit, to separate a person from his race, from his country, from his climate, and the habits of his part of the country, by marriage; it is only an experiment differing in degree to introduce him by marriage into a new circle of kinsfolk. Is he ever anything but a sort of tolerated, criticised, or admired alien? Does the time ever come when the distinction ceases between his family and hers? They say love is stronger than death. It may also be stronger than family–while it lasts; but was there ever a woman yet whose most ineradicable feeling was not the sentiment of family and blood, a sort of base-line in life upon which trouble and disaster always throw her back? Does she ever lose the instinct of it? We used to say in jest that a patriotic man was always willing to sacrifice his wife’s relations in war; but his wife took a different view of it; and when it becomes a question of office, is it not the wife’s relations who get them? To be sure, Ruth said, thy people shall be my people, and where thou goest I will go, and all that, and this beautiful sentiment has touched all time, and man has got the historic notion that he is the head of things. But is it true that a woman is ever really naturalized? Is it in her nature to be? Love will carry her a great way, and to far countries, and to many endurances, and her capacity of self-sacrifice is greater than man’s; but would she ever be entirely happy torn from her kindred, transplanted from the associations and interlacings of her family life? Does anything really take the place of that entire ease and confidence that one has in kin, or the inborn longing for their sympathy and society? There are two theories about life, as about naturalization: one is that love is enough, that intention is enough; the other is that the whole circle of human relations and attachments is to be considered in a marriage, and that in the long-run the question of family is a preponderating one. Does the gate of divorce open more frequently from following the one theory than the other? If we were to adopt the notion that marriage is really a tremendous act of naturalization, of absolute surrender on one side or the other of the deepest sentiments and hereditary tendencies, would there be so many hasty marriages–slip-knots tied by one justice to be undone by another? The Drawer did not intend to start such a deep question as this. Hosts of people are yearly naturalized in this country, not from any love of its institutions, but because they can more easily get a living here, and they really surrender none of their hereditary ideas, and it is only human nature that marriages should be made with like purpose and like reservations. These reservations do not, however, make the best citizens or the most happy marriages. Would it be any better if country lines were obliterated, and the great brotherhood of peoples were established, and there was no such thing as patriotism or family, and marriage were as free to make and unmake as some people think it should be? Very likely, if we could radically change human nature. But human nature is the most obstinate thing that the International Conventions have to deal with.