Page 27 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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WALDEN / AMERICAN JEWISH NOVEL
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and Anzia Yezierska. From the 40s on we have read Saul Bellow,
Delmore Schwartz, Isaac Rosenfeld, Leslie Fiedler, A lfred Kazin,
Irving Howe and N o rm an Mailer. And from the 1950s on we
have read Philip Roth, B e rna rd Malamud, Chaim Potok, Cynthia
Ozick, H ugh Nissenson, Norm a Rosen, Cu r t Leviant, Elie Wiesel,
I.B. Singer, and so many others.
T ru e , recently, questions have been raised. A recen t session at
the 1978 Modern Language Association Convention was devoted
to an exam ination o f the statement by Leslie Fiedler tha t the
American Jewish literary gen re was dead. Cynthia Ozick, though
she was un su re what the term meant, served as a rem inde r tha t
whatever it was, it was thriving; and Daniel Walden, Leslie Field,
Bonnie Lyons, and Keith Opdahl, panelists, agreed that, difficult
as the concept was, the ou tpu t continued, the form was in process,
the “gen re” was alive and well. T he Eastern European experi­
ence, written by the Yiddish writers, gave way to the American
Jewish writers and they in tu rn gave way to the Jewish American
writers. It is an experience tha t is unparalleled in modern times.
Its evolution is worth tracing.
EARLY THEMES
Even before 1930, American Jewish novelists used the themes
o f sex and love. They are persistent needs in the works o f B runo
Lessing, Anzia Yezierska, and James Oppenheim . Cahan’s David
Levinsky, a kind o f Jewish Horatio Alger, continually tried to find
love. T h a t he ended with loneliness, a millionaire, only highlight­
ed the paradox: His success was a measure o f his estrangem en t
from the community o f old. “T h e re are cases when success is a
tragedy ,” David knew. He never forgot the Jewish g reenho rn
who arrived here penniless and without friends. He never forgot
what m ight have been if he had gone to the City College o f New
York. Similarly, the Jew as Don Ju a n conflicted with the traditions
o f the Old Country, as Ludwig Lewisohn, Myron Brinig, and
Meyer Levin found out. T h e hold o f ghetto mores, the fear o f
what “they” would say, were barriers. Until the 1960s, American
Jewish writers did no t easily use these themes. In any case, the
image o f the Jew was more meaningful than it had been. An
inarticulate sense o f inherited identity, la ter to be articulated,
reflected a gfowing interest. Secular and cultural Judaism , gen­
erational problems, in term arriage , all vied with traditional forms.