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Philip Roth: The Man and his Work - Essay Example

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Philip Roth is Jewish, and, as is true of most Jewish writers, this aspect of his identity is an important element in his life and work. His parents were born in America but their parents had immigrated to the USA in the nineteenth century, at the time of a wave of European Jewish immigration to the country…
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Philip Roth: The Man and his Work
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Download file to see previous pages He taught creative writing at Iowa and Princeton and comparative literature at Pennsylvania before his retirement from teaching in 1992. He had also enlisted in the army and worked for a while in the Washington Public Information Office. Amidst all these varied and perhaps conventional preoccupations, he has always been dedicated to the literary muse, having published his first book in 1959 and his twenty-seventh, Everyman, in 2006, at the age of seventy three.
The dust jacket of Everyman lists the more important of the many prizes and awards garnered by Roth since 1997. For an idea of the number of prizes Roth won before 1997, one would have to visit the web site of "The Philip Roth Society" which lists twenty two awards preceding the Pulitzer Prize of 1997, and ten after it, a total of thirty three from the Paris Review Aga Khan award of 1958 to the PEN/Nabokov award of 2006. Roth probably still cherishes the gesture of the Library of America choosing him as the third living American writer to have his work published in a comprehensive, definitive edition. It would perhaps be an entirely safe bet to predict that within the next few years, the Swedish Academy would doubtless find occasion to award him the one prize that would be a true measure of the universal recognition of his talent and his unstinting dedication to the discipline of writing.
Roth's first book was Goodbye, Columbus, a collection of five stories and a novella, which used wit and irony to depict Jewish life in America after the war. Frederick R. Karl notes that though "often called the quintessential Jewish work", the book is concerned more "with clashes of class and caste than with Jewishness" (567). This remark is surely a tribute to the manner in which a young writer, in his first book, managed to make quintessentially Jewish material serve a broader, more universal social purpose. It is also noteworthy that this first work, which won Roth the National Book Award for Fiction, was condemned by people within his own community for its rather unflattering portrayal of Jewish life.
Societal concerns came to the fore again, in Roth's first full-length novel Letting Go (1962). The 1967 novel When She Was Good is distinguished by the fact that the narrative voice is that of a young woman, a detail rather unusual in Roth's oeuvre. Roth's third novel Portnoy's Complaint (1969) shines a hilarious light on the guilt-ridden solitary sex life of the protagonist, Alexander Portnoy, and made Roth a celebrity, perhaps for the wrong reasons. Roth, who has been described as "an intensely private man" by the critic Al Alvarez, probes this peculiar predicament of the popular writer's life in books published decades later, notably in Zuckerman Unbound (1981) and Operation Shylock(1993). Frederick Karl stresses that although Portnoy's Complaint tried "to grapple with a Jewish version" of the disorder, it was "also a response to sixties turbulence" generally (576).
After Portnoy, Roth made further forays into comedy, coming out with works such as Our Gang (1971) taking off from Richard Nixon, The Breast (1972) an almost surrealistic satire on sexual desire, and The Great American Novel(1973) which sought to satirize not only the work of Frank Norris but also the all-American sport of baseball. Later, however, Roth's books are seen to become ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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