Developing a Jewish identity in Philip Roth’s America
By Daniel Taub
Much of the essay is devoted to investigating the role Roth’s novel played in the conflict between American Jews who criticized their culture and those who declared such criticism to be nothing more than internalized anti-Semitism. While I also will touch upon the topics of assimilation and self-hatred among other minorities in the U.S., including African Americans and Asians, the primary focus is on self-identity among American Jews and the unique impact genocide at the hands of the Nazis has had on it. The impetus for this discussion is a personal experience from my teenage years—an incident involving Portnoy’s Complaint.
Not only Jews, of course, who have been charged with inauthenticity or self-loathing. Americans of Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese and Filipino descent who have written about their experiences growing up in the U.S. speak of being ashamed of their parents’ inability to speak English well, not wanting to bring home non-Asian friends because of the food smells and decorations to be found there, and avoiding socializing with other Asians at school because of a desire to fit in with the white majority instead. “Despite their parents’ best efforts,” write Pyong Gap Min and Rose Kim, summarizing a collection of narratives by Asian American professionals, “most resisted learning their native language and culture, especially during adolescence. Their resistance stemmed for the pressure to be “normal” and to fit in among their predominately white peers.”
Image is a photograph of Philip Roth in 1968; Bob Peterson/Time Life Pictures. Image appeared in “Portnoy’s Complaint – still shocking at 40,” an article in The Guardian “Books blog” by Chris Cox, posted September 7, 2009.