Page 16 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
ism. Smashing the idea o f individuality, they have ru in ed the
h ea r t o f the city.
In America, in Bellow’s view, economic changes as well as politi­
cal strategies have made the skills developed by city people for
negotiating the ir te rra in obsolete. Federal aid offered to u n fo r tu ­
nate city immigrants, especially its unemp loyed black inner-city
population , does no t change the situation. T h e difficult rights o f
citizenship no longer make a difference in the conduct o f daily
u rban life, now characterized by violence, demagoguery, and
chaos.
N either Dean Corde no r the o the r characters o f
The Dean’s
December
are Jews. Nevertheless, Bellow’s theme has its source in
the historical situation o f the Jew in the m odern cities o f the west.
His work has cha rted the ir relationship, and his most recen t novel
underlines the fact tha t the desperate situation o f the American
city can only lead to despair for the American, and the con tem po ­
rary Jew. His situation is representative o f the state o f western
cu lture, his life an index both to its achievements and its dilem ­
mas. What is possible for the west and the Jew, Bellow asks, now
tha t the city has lost its center.
T he power o f Saul Bellow’s vision o f the degeneration o f the
city in
The Dean’s December
in good measure derives from this link.
When there is no th ing to be a citizen of, the Jew is naked before
the onslaught o f mode rn history, having lost the tu r f which is the
con temporary condition o f his existence. T o articulate these
(im)possibilities o f the u rban situation as Bellow has done is to
define the ironies o f the modern , as well as the Jewish, condition.
NOVELISTIC RESPONSE
E.L. Doctorow’s novel
Ragtime,
published in 1976, treats the
same condition with an optimistic lightness — o r at least some
kind o f a happy ending. His novel syncopates the historical
rhy thm s o f urban American Jewish life to allow the ironic sp rung
rhy thm o f ragtime the chance to make its comment. T h e world
tha t defeats the Jewish imm igrant, T a teh , welcomes him as the
Baron Ashkenasy. Marrying a
shiksa,
the Baron makes his way to
Hollywood, fame, and fortune , as the crea to r o f a movie serial,
“T he Little Rascals,” which embodies the values o f city life. T he
life T a teh could no t lead becomes the substance o f the endu r ing
a r t o f the Baron. “One morn ing T a teh looked ou t the window o f