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American Jews and politics in the selected works of Philip Roth and Joseph Heller

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  1. Introduction.
    1. Inhabited by American-born Jews.
    2. The characters - revealed to consider themselves Jews.
  2. The Counterlife.
    1. The main character.
    2. Nathan's brother Henry.
    3. Nathan at the Wailing Wall.
  3. Plot Against America.
    1. The main character - Philip.
    2. Philip's explaination that it was of no interest to him to follow Jews.
    3. The Christmas holiday.
  4. Good As Gold.
    1. The hatred that keeps Bruce Gold from his goal.
    2. In search of the Washington friends.
  5. Anti-Semitism.
    1. Driving force in Roth's Plot Against America.
    2. The Counterlife - Zuckerman's dealing with anti-Semitism in a predominately indirect fashion.
    3. Jewish in ethnicity only.
  6. Conclusion.

The works of Joseph Heller and Philip Roth are frequently inhabited by American-born Jews. In The Counterlife Roth discusses the association between the American born ?Diaspora Jew? to the State of Israel. In Plot Against America it is the reaction of a Jewish family to governmental anti-Semitism that Roth explores. Bruce Gold, in Joseph Heller's Good As Gold, is a Jewish man seeking political office in the United States. Throughout the three novels the characters are revealed to consider themselves Jews only in ethnicity and it is here that they create the most conflict with their worlds. Through their relation to Gentiles one discovers a mutual fascination with the contrast between Jew and Christian. In The Counterlife, Philip Roth is greatly concerned with the relation of American born Jews to the State of Israel. The main character, Nathan Zuckerman, makes two trips to Israel during the book, once during a flashback and the second time to visit his brother Henry who is studying there. Through his extreme characters Roth creates a discussion focused mainly on the ?Diaspora Jew,? Nathan in the book. Through his conversations with a wide spectrum of Israelis Roth builds this discussion of Israel and American Jews, specifically ethnic Jews like Nathan. Nathan's friend Shuki Elchanan is one of the moderate characters in the novel and the first Israeli the reader meets.

[...] At a lunch with Shuki and his father Yakov, Nathan is involved in a conversation about his feelings towards Israel as an American Jew. Yakov Elchanan leads Nathan to a window in the restaurant looking out on the city. He says to Nathan, ?You're not going back there (America), are you? Don't be ridiculous, you'll stay. See that tree? That's a Jewish tree. See that bird? That's a Jewish bird. See up there? That's a Jewish cloud. There is no country for a Jew but here? (57). [...]


[...] Carnovsky, in the fiction of the Zuckerman books, written by Roth, is the equivalent of Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, dealing with the same themes and causing the same controversy as Carnovsky does in fiction. This relates to Nathan's tendency to shy away from his religious roots. He lives a life that seems to have allowed religion to permeate not at all. However, his writing again and again shows how much interest he actually has in Jews as people. This for Nathan is similar to Philip's fascination with Christians, both are attempting to explain something about themselves and their world through the contemplation of the opposite. [...]


[...] In one of the most revealing and certainly amusing chapters, Philip and a friend follow Christian men on their way home from work. Philip explains that it was of no interest to him to follow Jews; the mystery of the Christian men's lives was the only motivation. He stands outside their homes, looking at the wreaths on their doors, the Christmas trees in their windows. Looking at one of these Christmas trees Philip's friend points to the angel at the top of the tree and says, At the very top of that tree-see that? [...]

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