The effects of Zionism on American Jewish Novels Essay
The effects of Zionism on American Jewish Novels
Zionism can be defined as the political movement aimed at the return of all the Jewish people to their native soil. Its primary role was to establish a state exclusively for the Jews in Palestine, controlled purely by the Jews. The term Zionism was coined by Nathan Birbaum, who also founded the first organization of Jewish nationalist students in the West. The Zionist belief is that the Jews are a nation and hence must remain in one place. Zionism derives its name from the Hebrew word ‘Zion’, which is a hill in Jerusalem, upon which, it is believed, King David’s palace was built.
Zionism attained its goal in 1948 when the state of Israel was created for the Jews. The Zionist principles, though, evolved over time with the influence from socialism, colonialism, and the like in Europe. There were two primary factors for the Zionist movement. One was the fact that the Jews were dispersed throughout the world, and in each country, they represented a minority and were deprived of their rights and were subject to great atrocities. America’s economic growth resulted in millions of Europeans including a large number of Jews settling in the United States.
Many such Jewish immigrants began to write their experiences in other countries like the United States. This, in time, led to the rise of some great Jewish novels and novelists, Saul Bellow, Henry Roth, and Philip Roth being only a few among them, writing about their trials and tribulations in a country which even after years seemed alien to them. The American Jewish novels of the 1960s helped in establishing the definition of American Jewish fiction. Slowly, American Jewish writing concentrated more on the expression of individual creativity rather than ethnicity.
This could be seen in the works of many successful Jewish American writers, who focused more on the realities of life giving lesser importance to all the social and national movements held for the religion. Many of the American Jewish novels following World War II no longer centered on traditional ethnic themes of identity. There often was the element of Zionism and Judaism, but it was just like any other event in a novel. No prejudice could be traced in many such novels.
All such aspects of religion, of course, were projected from many angles and it showed the characters’ perspective towards a particular faith, but there was no judging if they were right or wrong. The American Jewish novels concentrated more on the human and humane aspects of the protagonists’ characters rather than on particular faiths. And overall, if we see the reviews of the novels of Chaim Potok or Henry Roth, they are mostly positive reviews. The book Call It Sleep (Roth 2005) established Henry Roth’s reputation as a writer.
Zionism appeared in the novels as just another aspect or event with the characters maintaining their own viewpoints. These novels could be read just like any other novels, and it is indeed worth mentioning that in spite of the Great Depression, this book did as best as it could. This set up a trend, and after decades of such successful American Jewish novels, the current generation of Jewish writers pursues a more diverse course, with some writers choosing to ignore their Jewish legacy while others remain totally unaffected by it.
There, of course, is the other group of writers who have created a new Jewish literature which voices directly the concerns of Jews throughout the world. Though American Jewish novels are written primarily by Jewish, there are many novels written with Jewish themes by people who belong to other faiths and nationalities. Even such novels are not biased in any way. On the whole, if we were to analyze the effects of Zionism on American Jewish novels, a neutral stance of Zionism is what is portrayed in almost all the plots. These authors are primarily Jewish who have first-hand experience of Jewish discrimination.
But their attempt to portray it in their novels is genuine without any trace of exaggeration.. They concentrate more on the plots and characters. The concept of identity is only secondary. Saul Bellow, for that matter preferred to be treated as an American writer. He did not like the designation of a Jewish writer. He does not at any time deny his Jewish identity, and one can clearly see the influence of Jewish history in his novels though it is difficult to specify it. A review of one or two such novels and their authors will give us a better idea about this.