Jewish American Literature

Print this page Print this page

Though Bellow is arguably the most revered Jewish American writer, his characters and themes are not overtly Jewish. Bellow, who grew up speaking Yiddish in an Orthodox Jewish home, never locates his characters in this culture. Nevertheless, figures like the Holocaust survivor Artur Sammler in Mr. Sammler's Planet (1969) and the schlemiel Moses Herzog in Herzog (1964) navigate their existences in dialogue with their Jewish identities.

Roth is the great chronicler of second-generation American Jewry. His characters, by and large, are the children of those Jews who worked their tails off to enter the middle class and do not intend on letting their children forget it. Roth writes about Jews who are financially comfortable yet culturally adrift. Because of their comfort, they can afford to be critical of both their Jewish and American worlds. So instead of feeling more at home in America, they feel even more alienated.

Caught in a no man's land between the universalism of American culture and the particularism of Jewish culture, Jewish American writers have, in recent years, opted for the latter. Cynthia Ozick is the matriarch of this movement. In books like The Cannibal Galaxy (1984) and The Shawl (1989), Ozick overtly addresses Jewish themes and teachings.

However, comfort with Jewish content does not negate conflict. Contemporary writers such as Rebecca Goldstein negotiate the friction between feminism and Judaism, while writers such as Thane Rosenbaum and Melvin Bukiet discuss the unique conflicts of children of Holocaust survivors. The Holocaust has always been a dominant force in American Jewish communal identity, but only recently have writers begun to make sense of this relationship. Similarly, the relationship between American Jews and Israel--the other dominant factor in Jewish American identity--has recently been explored by writers such as Allegra Goodman and Tova Reich.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.