Page 163 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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Those Jewish intellectuals who become prominent in American
cultural life in the years following the second World War
exhibit the distinctive moral qualities of that world. Indeed,
this moral vision is the propelling and distinguishing force
of the entire current of Jewish writing. What makes contem-
porary Jewish writers distinctive is the use to which they put
that vision in a distinctive time, the role it plays in shaping
the subjects of their fiction.
During the period of the first generation of Jewish life in
this country, the period of mass immigration from 1880 to 1914,
American Jewish writers, themselves members of the immigrant
generation, were mainly concerned with such subjects as the
immigrant's escape from oppression or the opportunities of the
new, free land or, conversely, the heavy price exacted by Amer-
icanization. During the period between the two world wars,
the period of the second generation of mass Jewish life in Amer-
ica, American Jewish writers, now native sons on native grounds,
began writing about the problems of growing up as outsiders,
growing up in the ghetto, the hunger for America and for a
place of dignity in its culture or economy, or the difficulties and
indignities of anti-Semitism or poverty as well as the corrup-
tions and defeats of the pursuit of success. Their writing, like
that of their non-Jewish contemporaries, often seethed with
demands for a new world. During these first two periods, times
of struggle, American Jewish writing was essentially an im-
migrant literature, dealing with the lives of immigrants and
their children, describing an immigrant experience in a world
that exacted a great physical, emotional, and spiritual price and
responding to that experience in terms of values absorbed in
Jewish homes.
With the advent of the postwar, post-Auschwitz world, after
the disillusionment with ideologies, after one god had failed
and another had died, when the sense of man’s abandonment
and isolation became, if not the prevailing mood, at least the
most prominent awareness, a group of second generation writers
appeared who could most sensitively respond to that mood and
that awareness. Having grown up during the thirties and having
been caught between two cultures—the immigrant Jewish cul-
ture which they left behind and the American whose establish-
ment they could not breach—they had themselves become experts
in a kind of alienation. The times they faced and the moods
were far different from those in which American culture, vigorous
and expanding even if sometimes deeply troubled, an aggressive
exponent of Christian values and pieties, had burst with de-
vastating impact upon the immigrant enclaves. The world they
saw was one in which the Christian values had themselves
broken down, a world in a moral shambles in which the central