Philip Roth, who was born on March 19, 1933 in Newark New Jersey, gained his fame because of his novel “Goodbye, Columbus” created in 1959. “Goodbye, Columbus” is a collection of six stories, including one having the same title as the book. The obstacles and concerns faced by a second and the third- generation of Jews who are already assimilated in an American society becomes the theme of each and every story in the book. In addition to this, the author somehow illustrates the problems of these individuals during their leave from their own ethnic families to continue their studies in college.
These problems and concerns then later on increase as the lives of these individuals progress and they become white-collar professionals, living a life in the borders. Moreover, it is fiction that often leads these characters to self-discovery. Neil Klugman is a fresh graduate of Newark Colleges of Rutgers University and most of his insecurities in life or his lack of self-confidence can be attributed to problems and concerns regarding social class. In addition to this, he really feels sensitive when it comes to social slights.
During his first date with another character who is a Radcliffe student named Brenda Patimkin, Brenda clearly and simply stated “We lived in Newark when I was a baby”. However, this already made Neil Klugman “suddenly angry” (12). Showing how Neil Klugman was affected by how Brenda Patimkin had moved up the social ladder ahead of him. He simply cannot stop from razzing into Brenda’s life, as such leads to certain self-discoveries and deepened insecurity in Neil Klugman’s life. Brenda Patimkin belongs to a wealthy family and her first meeting with Neil Klugman began in the Green Lane Country Club while Neil was holding Brenda’s glasses.
During the first meeting of Neil Klugman and Brenda Patimkin, Brenda innocently asked “Are you a Negro? ” (7) judging from the looks of Neil during that time. Somehow, this increased Neil’s feeling of inferiority as his social class, being a Jew, was compared to those belonging in the black community. In addition to this, the “Navaho-faced Negro” (21) maid named Carlota serving in the house of Brenda Patimkin added insult to the injury. This however can be attributed not simply because of Neil Klugman’s social or class inferiorities, but may also be a manifestation or self-realization of love.
The concept or ideas of being black, surpassing other ideas or sense of identification is emphasized by Philip Roth as the story in “Goodbye Columbus” continues. Neil Klugman meets a “small colored boy” (31) in the libraries, who was really yearning of an edition of Gauguin reproductions which includes several photos of Tahiti. On the other hand, Neil visited Brenda Patimkin in their residence in Short Hills in Newark and as Neil approaches Short Hills, he felt as if he was being “brought one closer to heaven” (8). The yearning and desires of the small colored boy can be correlated with the feelings which Neil had.
Somehow, Neil realizes and recognizes that Short Hills is “in my (Neil) mind’s eye, at dusk, rose-colored, like a Gaguin stream” (38). In addition to this, the boy’s flight of the imagination regarding Tahiti becomes parallel to the second thoughts of Neil Klugman’s of wanting Brenda Patimkin. Due to this connection, Neil somehow felt different or became unusually uneasy when he was not able to see the boy in the library because the book was no longer available for public viewing. As such, Neil felt like “though in his place, a very old man appeared, white, smelling of life Savers” (48).
Moreover, Neil tried to get the copy of Gaguin reproductions back in the stack again. As the story progresses, the behaviors of Neil Klugman becomes more understandable. He was trying to find a replacement for something that seems to be lost, though it can be explained that he is actually trying to find answers to fill up his being. In order to do this, he needed to fix or at least establish his relationship with Brenda. At first, Neil Klugman was having trouble in accepting any thoughts of losing Brenda. As such, this shows how incapable he is if Brenda is gone.
He cannot live that well if he would lose Brenda. When Brenda and Neil met again, Neil was allowed to kiss her, and this definitely improved the confidence level of Neil. “I didn’t care for anything but Brenda” (16-17). In this statement, it can be understood that Neil has already a direct goal, and his personality before of being indecisive is already being overcome. In addition to this, Neil states “her breasts swam towards me like two pink-nosed fish and she let me hold them” (17). Furthermore, he felt and hoped that the promise that he had with Brenda would last for a very long time.
Here, Philip Roth uses the importance of the female body parts to emphasize how Neil wants to persevere in having Brenda. The concept of being underwater shows a certain idea of continuity, more specifically pertaining to the relationship which Neil had hoped for. Neil Klugman, as the relationship deepens, also widens his self-confidence. He starts to be a little more aggressive to their relationship, and this somehow starts a problem for the both of them. There are some instances where Brenda uttered “Why are you so nasty? ” (13), “If I let you kiss me would you stop being nasty? ” (14).
This proves how Neil Klugman’s personality has changed and is taking the aggressive side. His inferiority before is starting to lose its grip over Neil Klugman. The concept or idea that “Martyrdom proves the martyrs commitment to his beliefs but cannot validate them”, comes into play as Philip Roths put it when Neil walked out of Brenda’s life. Neil uttered “and I knew it would be a long while before I made love to anyone the way I had made love to her” (136). This shows how he greatly devotes his self in loving Brenda, however, this cannot be proved since he is afraid of being with another woman.
He already thought that he would not be satisfied with any relationship that he would create with other woman. He already placed a wall between his self and other women, and this provides an impossibility of validating his belief. On the other hand, in “Defender of the Faith”, another dilemma is set upon the character of Sergeant Nathan Marx, resulting to a self-discovery. He just came back to the United States from a battle, and immediately after his arrival, he is assigned to take the responsibility of a United States Captain.
In his position, he faces several options to act which includes being a Jewish man, a simple human being or to play the role of a top sergeant. These options later on provide him with several problems, mainly internal, disturbing his beliefs and his own personality or ideals. The title states the status of Sergeant Nathan Marx, being in a battle where he would need to defend his faith and stand firm to his objectives. Just like the personality of Neil Klugman before meeting or having a relationship with Brenda, Sergeant Nathan Marx is also indecisive, always unsure what option to take or what choices to make.
However, the difference is that, Sergeant Nathan Marx was decisive and understood what he needed to do in the beginning, it was only when he was assigned to a new responsibility where he realized such indecisiveness. The plot tells how he is being pressured by the Jewish trainees and how he faced the dilemma when he met Sheldon Grossbart. Sheldon Grossbart can be compared to Brenda Patimkin in “Goodbye Columbus”, as if serving as catalyst for the development of Sergeant Nathan Marx personality. In the story, Philip Roths used the term “shul” to refer or narrate how Sergeant Nathan Marx sees the Jewish church.
This is how Sheldon Grossbart knew that Nathan was Jewish. Sheldon Grossbart, tried to use the religious ties of their Jewish similarities to manipulate Sergeant Nathan Marx. She made Nathan think that she, together with the other Jewish trainees, were really interested in attending worship services in their own Jewish church. By doing this, she states how it was unfair for them not to practice their own religion. Being too generous and sympathetic, Sergeant Nathan Marx used his authority or power to allow these Jewish trainees to attend the worship services.
However, he fails his objectivity to see that the Jewish trainees, more specifically Sheldon Grossbart, simply do not want to clean the barracks or perform their duties as trainees. They simply used the concept of attending the worship services to buy their selves time to relax. During the climax of the story, Sergeant Nathan Marx finally realized how he was being used, and how his ideals of being a righteous Jewish man had tempted him to a point that neglects his duties or objectivities. As such, he became furious with the Jewish trainees, especially on Grossbart.
He then retraces his personality and regains his objectivity, using his authority on a better position. Sergeant Nathan Marx overcomes his weakness of being manipulated through his beliefs as a Jew and exercises his power. Sheldon Grossbart tried to fight back, throwing religious ties as a means to elude defeat and obtain another small victory over Nathan. However, Nathan had already found his focus and he overcomes Grossbart by sending her to a battle which was occurring at the Pacific.
Works Cited Roth, Philip. Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1959.
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