The Controversial Figure of Emma Goldman


Emma Goldman was born in Russia, and her parents were of Jewish origin. As presented by Chalberg (45-46), she moved to the United States of America at sixteen hoping to get the freedom that was not present in her motherland. This was after her father had wanted to force her into marriage at the age of 15 (Chalberg, 45-46). After arrival in the US, for a while, it could be said that Goldman was realizing her dream in the new environment. However, her controversial nature did not disappear, and soon, Emma got into active public activity sharing her views on various topics and struggling against numerous challenges. Firstly, she expressed the need for people to enter into a love relationship with mutual consent without any party being coerced. Moreover, while in the city of New York, she started an association with a Russian, Alexander Berkman, and they both were real freedom fighters of that time in the USA (Nash et al., 78-79). Overall, Emma Goldman is characterized as a controversial person due to her specific qualities such as individualism, intolerance to prejudice, radicalism, and anarchism.

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Being known for radical decisions and actions, Emma Goldman has been referred to by some scholars as an anarchist. There are a few examples that can be used to support the claim. First, with Berkman, the two decided to commit an anarchist deed of fighting for the employees' rights of various organizations, and their actions were directed against those individuals who did not share their unionists' efforts (Chalberg, 36-37). At one time, their target was the renowned employer of Carnegie Steel Company who really opposed their views, Henry Frick (Chalberg, 36-37). Even though the two were not together at the time Berkman actually committed that offense that they had been planning for a period of time, she later joined him in the jail (Chalberg, 37). This was because she insisted that their plan of anarchy be executed and urged and mobilized the unemployed to forcefully take the food that they required from various employers based on her belief in freedom and justice.

Additionally, Emma Goldman has been depicted as controversial due to the extraordinary life that she had. She continuously struggled against powerful governments in the process of trying to bring sanity and equality into society. In fact, being of Russian origin, she carried all the injustices she had seen there to America when she migrated. Consequently, she always longed for fairer life conditions in the States as opposed to what she was used to in Russia (Chalberg, 46-48). However, having realized that the US had the same issues that she had faced in her motherland, she felt anarchism intensified and reached greater heights. As a result, Goldman created lots of writings that were challenging the policies of the American government. The mentioned fact led to the authorities of the US looking for reasons to deport her. Finally, her advocating against the First World War gave them the ground to finally deport her to Russia, where she was one of the most renowned intellectuals of the time on her arrival.

While a part of scholars views Emma Goldman as violent, there are those that attribute this feature to be the consequence of all her frustrations that she had during her struggle for freedom and liberty of the people (Nash et al., 67-68). In fact, she never took part in violent actions; instead, Goldman peacefully just fought to defend the oppressed in the society. It is also important to note that upon being released from prison, she became a nurse and a midwife, and participated in various trips to Europe as a nurse that broadened her scope of thinking and her perspectives as well (Nash et al., 56-57). Later on, in 1901, she had to suffer the harassment of all kinds when one of the disturbed individuals, President William McKinley, argued that her speeches had affected him in a negative manner (Chalberg, 45-47). As a result, she intensified her activity again. When Berkman was released from prison, he teamed up with Emma Goldman to produce more publications that sought to fight for people's rights. Both of them because the first editors of the magazine Mother Earth in which they spoke boldly and without fear on matters that were really affecting the day.

According to Nash et al., Goldman further gained fame during the youth movements of social and radical experimenters of the 1910s (67-69). During that time, her fight was against the Conscription Act and aimed at the regulation of birth control and other women issues. In fact, she was even given a two-year sentence in 1977 for advocating for birth control and for her incite for people to take part in riots (Bundy, 2016). All these events led to her being deprived of her citizenship and deported to Russia. This was done on a technical ground, and most people could not understand why it happened. Thus, in 1919, the decision about the exile was made and she was taken to Russia where she continued her public work and traveled a lot, addressed gatherings of her supporters and wrote a number of new works (Bundy, 2016).

Another fact that makes the figure of Goldman controversial is that she was one of the first people to air out issues of homosexuality, the suffrage of women, and in so doing, she touted the love values, in particular, the so called free love. These ideas inspired numerous people mainly bourgeois who became her counterparts and deeply believed in the claims considering them the way out of the challenges of social life. Goldman shared the ideologies with many individuals, and she also learned from many persons as well. There were a lot of persons who influenced her ideology, and there were a lot of those who were affected by it including Margret Sanger, one of the founders of the present American Liberalism and Roger Baldwin, the founder of the Planned Parenthood and ACLU, both of whom conduct their activities in the United States of America. However, the ordinary Americans considered her as demonic and mad. And, this is the way she has been presented throughout history by some law enforcers in the history of America. To support their claims, they draw attention to the fact that Emma Goldman was jailed several times when she was caught while conspiring against the legislation of the United States. On those occasions, the charges laid against her ranged from riots to the World War opposition and advocating for birth control; issues that were opposed to by the government of the day (Bundy, 2016). Moreover, Goldman was portrayed as a woman being exiled by many countries and denied access to many others owing to the negative attitude to their authorities. To illustrate the fact, one can mention the time she was in Russia. She did not fit there because within a very short time, she hailed the Russian revolution which was not accepted by the current government; thus, the decision was taken to expel her from the country on such grounds. In general, these are some of the things that are mentioned and depicted in most of the writings by Emma Goldman (Zinn, ch. 3, par. 7). All her works stirred up controversy in various parts of the world. Later on, having got tired by the frustration her pieces of writing caused, she decided to get married. Such a decision resulted in obtaining the citizenship of Britain. The given situation has been explained by herself in her autobiography which she entitled as Living My Life (Chalberg, 44-46). Though she is associated with so many negative traits, Goldman played a major role in American society influencing hundreds of people of all walks of life. Probably, this explains the fact that after her death in 1940, and her body was transferred to the United States for burial despite being barred from that country during her life due to her opposition to the governments (Nash, 66-67).

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To sum up, Emma Goldman's life has been perceived differently by various groups of people. Some of the attributes that have been associated with her name are feminist, anarchist, revolutionist and rebel just to mention but a few. Yet, to some authors and thinkers, her life is a motivating factor despite her being regarded as chaotic, always opposed to the government's ideas as well as those of other people. Nevertheless, most of the biographies present her contribution in fighting for justice and fairness, as well as struggling against prejudice especially concerning women. Right from her teenage years, Emma Goldman refused to follow the ideals of male chauvinism when she refused to be given into marriage by her father at the tender age of 15.

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