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The Zuckerman Bound Trilogy Transgressing the Boundary of the Ghetto Mentality

Author: LiuYiHong
Tutor: LuZuoTai
School: Guangxi Normal University
Course: English Language and Literature
Keywords: Philip Roth Ghetto Mentality Cultural Transgression Jewish Tradition Reconstruct
Type: Master's thesis
Year: 2007
Downloads: 143
Quote: 1
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Ghetto mentality is the Jewish spirit shaped in the historical experiences of the Jewish groups isolated in enclaves, who are inclined to view the world as divided between Jews and gentiles. On the one hand, it embodies the quintessence of Jewish culture and relates to the construction of the Jewish identity. On the other, it restricts Jews in viewing the world comprehensively and objectively. Nowadays in the United States, the Jewish social situation has greatly changed, so it’s quite necessary to readjust Jewish tradition in American society. In this cultural transformation, Jewish American writers not only witness the conflict and convergence of the two different cultures in their works, but also make great contributions to the enlightenment of Jews. And Roth is definitely one of the representatives in freeing Jews from the stereotyped mind through his writing.For a long time in the history of literature, Jews were written in a way of cliché, a Shylock, an evil man, a schlemiel or a victim of anti-Semitism. Since the middle of the 21st century, along with the improvement of the Jewish social status and the establishment of the Jewish country Israel, the Jewish people have gained national pride and confidence. And most of the Jewish writers in the United States began to write about Jews at a writer’s angle rather than a mere Jew’s. In other words, they try to take an objective stand in looking into Jews and Jewish culture. Among them Roth is a prominent yet a most controversial one. Roth is famous for the revelation of the dark side of Jewish life in his works. He is blamed and condemned by quite a few Jews because of his critical attitudes towards Jewish tradition and ironical treatment of Jewish life. He is even considered to be anti-Semitic and self-hatred by some conservative Jews. Actually, Roth doesn’t deny his Jewish identity nor reject the Jewish tradition in his work; he only tries to achieve a link with the tradition in a distinctive perspective. This thesis will take the Zuckerman Bound Trilogy as an example to analyze the transgression in the fiction of Roth.The thesis consists of six parts. The introduction gives a summary of Roth and his works, and surveys the study of Roth at home and abroad. The first chapter reviews the origin of ghetto and Jewish historical experiences in ghettos. It goes further to give the definition of ghetto mentality, and shows that transgression is part of the Jewish tradition as we can see the Jewish debates with God in the Bible. In modern literature, Jewish writers such as I. B. Singer, create Jewish figures who rebell Judaism and Jewish customs. The second chapter studies the reason why Zuckerman wants to plunge himself into the transgression by writing about the obscene life of Jews. Growing up in the U.S.A, Zuckerman is largely affected by American liberty, so he is keen to escape the world view of Jews and fulfils his own artistic ideal. However, Jewish marginal consciousness constrains his development as a writer. The third chapter deals with the consequences brought by Zuckerman’s transgression. The publication of a novel about a Jewish American boy’s rebellion by masturbation makes Zuckerman a celebrity, but puts the writer into more severe dilemma. The transgression doesn’t give Zuckerman freedom. He loses himself in extensive philistinism of the American popular culture, and can’t shed off the shadow of self-accusation. In the chaos his transgression leads to, he suffers from a mysterious physical pain in his upper body. It forces him to face the concrete pain in transgressing Jewish tradition. The last chapter reveals the cultural root and significance of Zuckerman’s transgression. Transgressing the boundary of ghetto mentality has inevitable cultural causes. It comes down to the discontinuity of the Jewish tradition in the U.S.A. To revive the Jewish culture in the surrounding of American culture, Roth takes his responsibility. Inheriting the ethos of Jewish literature and writes Jewish Americans as they actually are, he makes his contribution to the reconstruction of Jewish culture. All these analyses conclude in the deep meaning of transgressing ghetto mentality through Roth’s fiction. Breaking the stereotyped ideology of Jews in viewing the world divided between Jews and non-Jews will be of great significance in the modernization of Jewish culture, and this is the artistic ideal of Roth.

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