Page 28 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

Basic HTML Version

20
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Apparen tly the re were millions o f Americans who wondered
about the God o f the ir fathers , the American Dream , m an ’s
m anipula tion o f man, and the necessary persistence o f the n a tu ­
ral and compulsory Jewish communities o f earlier days.
American Jewish writers have had to fashion the ir p roduc t ou t
o f the life they knew, and they worked usually in an uncaring o r
hostile framework. For too long, as in the case o f Black literature ,
stereotypes persisted, drawn mainly by the host cu ltu re bu t aided
and abe tted by the minority. Even as Sambo and Amos and Andy
perpe tua ted the Negro stereotype, so Potash and Perlmu tter,
Cohen on the telephone, the Goldbergs, Mickey Katz, and choco­
late matzos continued the travesty o f Jews by Jews. Overcom ing
these images was one aspect o f the writers’ problem . Learn ing the
language and the symbols was another. Most im po rtan t, the writ­
ers had to deal with a Jewish image b rough t into existence by
gentiles and Jews and then create what had never existed before
— an American Jewish literature .
For the American Jewish writers, from the cities, towns and
shtetls
o f Russia-Poland, arriving at a time o f national reform and
psychic crisis, o f primary importance were the problems o f ad ­
ju s tm en t to the new cu lture and reconciliation o f the ir Old Coun­
try cu lture with tha t o f the New World. Scrambling fo r a dollar,
everyone working, they endu red so tha t the ir children m ight
become Americans. “Who has ever seen such optimism?,” asked
Harry Golden. For the American Jewish writer, u n d e r the p res­
sures o f the Americanizing process, new problems were added .
With disdain for his paren ts’ ways, dress, and accent, he often
op ted for the New at the expense o f the Old. T rad itions, values,
religion — all were subord inated to the need to emulate the
Americans or the Jews who were no longer greenho rns . T he joys
and the traged ies o f the genera tiona l expe rience were no t
unique, o f course, bu t the works o f those writers from Cahan on
in the first generation, and from Ornitz th rough H enry Roth in
the next, show tha t the context, the insights, and the style o f the
generational experience are novel, a b reak th rough . For the first
time, Jews who bridged the two cultures in a host country wrote o f
the ongoing bridging experience. T he ir literary talents explored
the sociological dimensions o f a minority. And as the up-from -
the-ghetto literature gave way to fiction as a living form , as Jewish
self-consciousness benefited from the national and internationa l
processes, so the American Jewish writer wrote o f himself, his