Jewish American Literature Essay
Jewish American Literature
Jewish American Literature holds an essential place in the literary history of the United States. It encompasses traditions of writing in English, primarily, as well as in other languages, the most important of which has been Yiddish. While critics and authors generally acknowledge the notion of a distinctive corpus and practice of writing about Jewishness in America, many writers resist being pigeonholed as ‘Jewish voices’. Also, many nominally Jewish writers cannot be considered representative of Jewish American literature, one example being Isaac Asimov.
Beginning with the memoirs and petitions composed by the Sephardic immigrants who arrived in America during the mid 17th century, Jewish American writing grew over the subsequent centuries to flourish in other genres as well, including fiction, poetry, and drama. The first notable voice in Jewish- American literature was Emma Lazarus whose poem ‘The New Colossus’ on the Statue of Liberty became the great hymnal of American immigration. Gertrude Stein became one of the most influential prose-stylists of the early 20th century.
The early twentieth century saw the appearance of two pioneering American Jewish novels: Abraham Cahan’s ‘The Rise of David Levinsky’ and Henry Roth’s ‘Call it Sleep’. It reached some of its most mature expression in the 20th century ‘Jewish American novels’ by Saul Bellow, J. D. Salinger, Norman Mailer, Bernard Malamud, Chaim Potok, and Philip Roth. Their work explored the conflicting pulls between secular society and Jewish tradition which were acutely felt by the immigrants who passed through Ellis Island and by their children and grandchildren.
More recent authors like Nicole Krauss, Paul Auster, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Safran Foer andArt Spiegelman have continued to examine dilemmas of identity in their work, turning their attention especially to the Holocaust and the trends of both ongoing assimilation and cultural rediscovery exhibited by younger generations of American Jews. Arguably the most influential of all American- Jewish novels was Leon Uris’ ‘Exodus’. Its story of the struggle to create the modern state of Israel translated into Russian became the inspiration
for hundreds of thousands of Russian immigrants to Israel. Modern Jewish American novels often contain (a few or many) Jewish characters and address issues and themes of importance to Jewish American society such as assimilation, Zionism/Israel, and Anti-Semitism, along with the recent phenomenon known as “New Anti-Semitism. ” Two Jewish- American writers have won the Nobel Prize, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Saul Bellow. Bernard Malamud is considered one of the most prominent figures in Jewish –American literature. BERNARD MALAMUD ( 1914-1986).
Malamud’s stories and novels, in which reality and fantasy are frequently interfaced have been compared to parables, myths and analogies and often illustrate the importance of moral obligation. Although he draws upon his Jewish heritage to address the themes of sins, suffering, and redemption, Malamud emphasizes human contact and compassion over orthodox religious dogma. Malamud’s characters, while often awkward and isolated from society, evoke both pity and humor through their attempts at survival and salvation. Sheldon J.
Hershinow observed: “Out of the everyday defeats and indignities of ordinary people, Malamud creates beautiful parables that capture the joy as well as the pain of life; he expresses the dignity of the human spirit searching for freedom and moral growth in the face for hardship, injustice, and the existential anguish of life. BIOGRAPHY Malamud was born on April 28, 1914, in Brooklyn, New York, to Russian Jewish immigrants. His parents, whom he described as “gentle, honest, kindly people,” were not highly educated and knew very little about literature of the arts: “There were no books in the house, no records, music, pictures on the wall.
” Malamud attended high school in Brooklyn and received his bachelor’s degree from the City College of New York in 1936. After graduation, he worked in a factory and as a clerk at the central bureau in Washington, D. C. Although he wrote in his spare time, Malamud did not begin writing seriously until the advent of the Second World War and the subsequent horrors of the Holocausts. He questioned his religious identity and started reading about Jewish tradition and history .
He explained: “I was concerned with what Jews stood for, with their getting down to the bare bones of things. I was concerned with their ethnically –how Jews felt for they had to live order to go on living. ” In 1949, he began teaching at Oregan State University; he left this post in 1961 to teach creative writing at Bennington College in Vermont. He remained there until shortly before his death in 1986.
Starting in 1949, Malamud taught four sections of freshman composition each semester at Oregon State University (OSU), an experience fictionalized in his 1961 novel ‘A New Life’. Because he lacked the Ph. D., he was not allowed to teach literature courses, and for a number of years his rank was that of instructor. In those days, OSU, a land grant university, placed little emphasis on the teaching of humanities or the writing of fiction.
While at OSU, he devoted 3 days out of every week to his writing, and gradually emerged as a major American author. In 1961, he left OSU to teach creative writing at Bennington College, a position he held until retirement. In 1967, he was made a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In 1942, Malamud met Ann De Chiara (November 1, 1917 – March 20, 2007), an Italian-American Roman Catholic, and a 1939 Cornell University graduate. They married on November 6, 1945, despite the opposition of their respective parents. Ann typed his manuscripts and reviewed his writing. Ann and Bernard had two children, Paul (b. 1947) and Janna (b. 1952). Janna Malamud Smith is the author of a memoir about her father, titled My Father is a Book. Malamud died in Manhattan in 1986, at the age of 71. WORKS OF MALAMUD Malamud’s first novel, ‘The Natural’ (1952 ) ,is considered one of his most symbolic works .
While the novel ostensibly traces the life of Roy Hobbs, an American baseball player , the work has underlying mythic elements and explores such themes as initiation and isolation. For instance, some reviewers cited evidence of the Arthurian legend of the Holy Grail; others applied T. S. Eliot’s ‘wasteland’ myth in their analyses ‘The Natural’ also foreshadows what would become Malamud’s predominant narrative focus: a suffering protagonist struggling to reconcile moral dilemmas, to act according to what is right, and to accept the complexities and hardships of existence.
Malamud‘s second novel, ‘The Assistant’ (1957), portrays the life of Morris Bober, a Jewish immigrant who owns a grocery store in Brooklyn. Although he is struggling to survive financially, Bober hires a cynical anti-semitic youth, Frank Aloine after learning that the man is homeless and on the verge of starvation. Through this contact Frank learns to find grace and dignity in his own identity. Described as naturalistic fable, this novel affirms the redemptive value of maintaining faith in the goodness of the human soul. Malamud’s first collection of short stories, ‘The Magic Barrel’, (1958) was awarded the National Book award in 1959.
Like ‘The Assistant’, most of the stories in this collection depict the search for hope and meaning within the grim entrapment of poor urban settings and were influenced by Yiddish folktales and Hasidic traditions. Many of Malamud’s best known short stories, including ‘The Last Mohican’, ‘Angel Levine’, and ‘Idiots First’, were republished in ‘The Stories of Bernard Malamud’ in 1983. ‘A New Life’ (1961), considered one of Malamud’s most true-to-life novels, is based in part on Malamud’s teaching career at Oregon State University.
This work focuses on an ex-alcoholic Jew from New York City who becomes a professor at a college in the Pacific Northwest. It examines the main character’s search for self-respect, while poking fun at life at a learning institution. Malamud’s next novel, ‘The Fixer’ (1966), is one of his most powerful works. The winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, this book is based on the historical account of Mendel Beiliss, a Russian Jew who was accused of murdering a Christian child.
With ‘The Tenants’ (1971), Malamud returns to a New York City setting in a contrast between two writers—one Jewish and the other African American—struggling to survive in an urban ghetto. Malamud further addresses the nature of literature and the role of the artist in ‘Dublin’s Lives’ (1979). In this work, the protagonist, William Dublin, attempts to create a sense of worth for himself, both as a man and as a writer. Malamud’s last finished novel, ‘God’s Grace’ (1982), studies both the original Holocaust and a new, imagined Holocaust of the future.
The novel is a wild, at times brilliant, at times confusing, description of a flood similar to that in the Bible story of Noah’s ark. Malamud continued to place stories in top American magazines. Mervyn Rothstein reported in the New York Times that Malamud said at the end of his life, “With me, its story, story, story. ” In Malamud’s next-to-last collection, ‘Rembrandt’s Hat’, only one story, ‘The Silver Crown’, deals with Jewish themes. Malamud is also renowned for his short stories, often oblique allegories set in a dreamlike urban ghetto of immigrant Jews.
Of Malamud the short story writer, Flannery O’Connor wrote: “I have discovered a short-story writer who is better than any of them, including myself. ” He published his first stories in 1943, ‘Benefit Performance’ in Threshold and ‘The Place Is Different Now’ in American Preface. In the early 1950s, his stories began appearing in Harper’s Bazaar, Partisan Review, and Commentary. ‘The Magic Barrel’ was his first published collection of short stories (1958) and his first winner of his first National Book Award for Fiction.
Most of the stories depict the search for hope and meaning within the bleak enclosures of poor urban settings. The title story focuses on the unlikely relationship of Leo Finkle, an unmarried rabbinical student, and Pinye Salzman, a colorful marriage broker. Finkle has spent most of life with his nose buried in books and therefore isn’t well-educated in life itself. However, Finkle has a greater interest – the art of romance. He engages the services of Salzman, who shows Finkle a number of potential brides from his “magic barrel” but with each picture Finkle grows more uninterested.
After Salzman convinces him to meet Lily Hirschorn, Finkle realizes his life is truly empty and lacking the passion to love God or humanity. When Finkle discovers a picture of Salzman’s daughter and sees her suffering, he sets out on a new mission to save her. Other well-known stories included in the collection are: ‘The Last Mohican’, ‘Angel Levine’, ‘Idiots First’, and ‘The Mourners’. This last story focuses on Kessler, the defiant old man in need of “social security” and Gruber, the belligerent landlord who doesn’t want Kessler in the tenement anymore.
Malamud’s fiction touches lightly upon mythic elements and explores themes like isolation, class, and the conflict between bourgeois and artistic values. His prose, like his settings, is an artful pastiche of Yiddish-English locutions, punctuated by sudden lyricism. Writing in the second half of the twentieth century, Malamud was well aware of the social problems of his day: rootlessness, infidelity, abuse, divorce, and more. But he also depicted love as redemptive and sacrifice as uplifting.
In his writings, success often depends on cooperation between antagonists. For example, in The Mourners landlord and tenant learn from each other’s anguish. In ‘The Magic Barrel’, the matchmaker worries about his “fallen” daughter, while the daughter and the rabbinic student are drawn together by their need for love and salvation. Malamud’s third story ‘Rembrandt’s Hat’ collection is noteworthy for its consistently pessimistic tone and theme of failed communication in stories such as ‘My Son the Murderer’, ‘The Silver Crown’, and ‘The Letter’.
‘The volume The People’, and ‘Uncollected Stories’ contains an unfinished novel about a Russian Jewish peddler in the American West who becomes a marshal and is kidnapped by Indians. It also includes fourteen stories written between 1943 and 1985. LIST OF OTHER NOTABLE JEWISH AMERICAN WRITERS • Aimee Bender — novelist and short story writer, known for her often fantastic and surreal plots and characters • Saul Bellow, novelist that won the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the National Medal of Arts • Bernard Cooper, novelist, short story writer • E. L.
Doctorow, novelist • Richard Ellmann, literary critic, won National Book Award for Nonfiction • Barthold Fles, literary agent and non-fiction writer • Emma Goldman, anarchist writer • Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22 • Christopher Hitchens, literary critic and political activist • Irving Howe, literary critic • Roger Kahn. “The Boys of Summer” 1972 • Jerzy Kosinski, author of The Painted Bird • Emma Lazarus, poet and novelist • Fran Lebowitz, author, known for her sardonic social commentary on American life through her New York sensibilities • Seymour Martin Lipset, political sociologist.
• Reggie Nadelson, novelist known particularly for her mystery works • Mark Obama Ndesandjo, author, half-brother of President Barack Obama • Cynthia Ozick, short story writer, novelist, and essayist • Jodi Picoult, novelist • Ayn Rand, novelist and founder of Objectivism • Lea Bayers Rapp, non-fiction and children’s fiction writer • Philip Roth, known for autobiographical fiction that explored Jewish and American identity. • Norman Rosten, novelist • J. D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye
• Gary Shteyngart (born 1972) Russian-born writer • Isaac Bashevis Singer, leading figure in Yiddish literature, won Nobel Prize • George Steiner (born 1929) literary critic • Daniel Stern, novelist] • Leopold Tyrmand, writer • Judith Viorst (born 1932) author, known for her children’s literature • Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and author of 57 books CONCLUSION The situation and the position of the Jewish-American writer have always been different from that of the other ethnicities in America and still remain so until today.
One difference is highlighted by a comparison with the African-American writers. The “marginal” position of black authors has disappeared on the book market in the United States, but the themes of alienation and anger will not vanish as readily from their works. Instead of integration into the Literary and artistic mainstream, black writers and artists wanted, especially since the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, to arrive at their “own” forms of literary expression which would have direct relevance for their lives.
They wished to answer the question of their relationship to white mainstream culture by implementing a multicultural strategy: their literature is not that of assimilation, but in many ways that of establishing difference, separatism, and cultural resistance. While with the African-American writers there is no sense of the success or even desirability of social and cultural integration into the predominantly white mainstream of American society, many Jewish-American authors felt it as necessary and desirable, and as a result even managed to acquire it.
Indeed, a great number of contemporary Jewish-American writers such as Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, Joseph Heller, Bernard Malamud, Arthur Miller, Philip Roth and others have had literary success. The language employed by these writers is standard American English, they are socially accepted, and their works are read by a wide Jewish and non-Jewish audience. For this reason it is widely considered that their texts form part of a recognized literary canon, and belong to the American literary “center” or “mainstream,” as far as this may still be defined today.
As much as we agreed to this idea we cannot ignore several facts which underline the necessity to view Jewish American literary productions as shaped by strong ethnic forces, and Jewish American literature as both belonging to and standing out in the multicultural American landscape. BIBLOGRAPHY Books Sanford, Sternlicht Masterpieces of Jewish American Literature Cristina, Nilsson Jewish American Literature: Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth and Cynthia Ozick Websites http://en. wikipedia. org http://www. swiftpapers. com http:// Top of Form.