The main period of Italian immigration into the US was ushered in by the unification of Italy in 1861. The new constitution heavily favoured the North, and southern citizens were plunged into severe economic hardship. Many chose to flee the country, with 4 million migrating to America between 1880 and 1920. In keeping with Faulkner’s portrayal, a lot of these new arrivals were ill-equipped for life in the US and consequently found themselves relegated to substandard living conditions and poorly-paid employment.
The fact that the Italian families are described as ‘new’ corroborates the idea that the location is based on Waltham, for 1910 marked the arrival of large numbers of Italian immigrants in that city.