Page 36 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

Basic HTML Version

prevents the son from attaining maturity and independence . It
endangers his masculinity. In the ex treme case, such as with Paul
Sons and Lovers,
the son o f a dom inan t m o ther has difficulty
later on in establishing a normal relationship in marriage. This
crisis makes itself felt not only among native Americans and Eng­
lish bu t also among imm igrants and various ethnic groupings,
and is reflected in the ir respective literatures. We now en te r the
period o f the “yiddishe mama” who becomes a central figure in
American Jewish literature , and possibly even in Jewish family
life in America, with the decline o f the father-figu re whose trad i­
tional authority had long since been underm ined . In this “new
era ,” the continuity between the generations is ensu red by the
mother, as the family adopts a matriarchal structure (See M.
Roston’s In troduc tion to M.J. Landa,
The Jew in Drama,
T he mo ther represen ts the warmth o f the home and the nostalgia
for times past. She pampers her son and coaxes him to be a “good
son,” bu t she never really releases him from h e r control. T he son’s
situation now is no be tter than it was u n d e r the patriarchal control
o f the father. It is perhaps worse, for he is even less secure and less
independen t than before. T he malaise inhe ren t in this situation is
clearly appa ren t in Henry Roth’s
Call It Sleep
(1934). T h e re the
boy David, raised in the alien environm en t o f New York’s Lower
East Side at the beginning o f the century, run s away from his
fa the r who treats him cruelly; in the end , we find him asleep in his
mo the r’s arms. She remains his only refuge, bu t from the weary
tone o f the ending, it would seem tha t David will never achieve
emotional balance, maturity or freedom .
T h e final stage o f the process is reached in the years following
World War II (see Haro ld Fisch,
The Double Image,
1971 ed., p.
127). T he image o f the ugly Jewish m o ther appears in Brian
Glanville’s novel,
The Bankrupts
(1950), in which the d augh te r
run s ou t o f her m o the r’s house hu rling at h e r the ep ithe t “bitch .”
T h e fa ther to all intents and purposes is non-existent. T he
“yiddishe mama” is also presented in an exaggerated carica ture
by B e rnard Kops in his 1960 play “T h e Dream o f Peter Mann .”
More recently, this trend has reached its peak in
Portnoy’s Com­
by Philip Roth, written in 1967. Sophia the m o ther smo th­
ers he r son Alex with h e r love. She only wants to hold him and