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A Perspective of Philip Roth’s Negative Presentation of Jews in Portnoy’s Complaint, in Contrast with Shakespeare’s Shylock

Author: LiuANa
Tutor: DuChangZhong
School: Fujian Normal University
Course: Comparative Literature and World Literature
Keywords: Philip Roth Portnoy Sophie Portnoy Shakespeare Shylock
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Type: Master's thesis
Year: 2006
Downloads: 456
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Abstract


Philip Roth has been a writer of great controversy for his revolt against Jewish tradition revealed in his works. The publication of his Portnoy’s Complaint in 1969 turned out at once a hit as well as a scandal. With his treatment in Portnoy’s Complaint of the domineering mother and the transgressive son, he has been accused of a self-hater and anti-Semitic. Some critics even argued that his negative presentation of the mother, Sophie Portnoy, would become a new anti-Semitic stereotype and arouse another wave of anti-Semitism in the US society. Indeed they classified Roth with those Christian authors who embodied anti-Semitism on the Jew images they constructed.Of the various anti-Semitic stereotypes set by Christian authors, Shakespeare’s Shylock in The Merchant of Venice has been by far the most vivid and memorable. Shylock is a product of the Elizabethan age. He is presented as the "other" at the hands of the Christian author and functions as an anti-Semitic stereotype due to Jews’ alien "other" position in the Elizabethan society. He is constructed from the Christian point of view and made the "other" to serve to establish the English protestant hegemony in Elizabethan England. While also negatively presenting Jewishness and Jews in Portnoy’s Complaint, Roth writes from the minority discourse point of view. His frustration with his subcultural position as a Jew in American society is, in many ways, the irritant that produces the fiction. Here he transshipped his personal sense of persecution he suffered as a pariah figure to the defiant destinies of the protagonist and expressed his wish to cross from a subculture into the mainstream. His negative treatment of Jewishness and Jews is his displaced attack on the mainstream world which threw his Jewish people in a predicament so much that that they were distorted and "castrated".Therefore, the function of Jewishness and Jews at the hands of the Jewish writer andthe Christian writer can’t overlap. Through offering a perspective of the negative presentation of Jewishness and Jews by the American-Jewish writer and arguing for the different functions of Jewishness and Jew images in the Christian mainstream discourse and the minority discourse, this paper aims to, on the one hand, refute some critics’

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