Page 39 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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ideas, I will look at the image o f mo therhood in the writings
o f two contemporary Jewish novelists, Philip Roth and Esther
B roner — an unlikely comparison o f two au thors seemingly at
loggerheads, that may nonetheless prove instructive. I begin
with the image o f mo therhood because it has an importan t place
in Jewish tradition — as, in a certain sense, a corollary o f the
patriarchy that is endemic to Judaism — and because rethinking
motherhood has been an importan t feminist concern. The issue
o f mo therhood also provides an opportunity to explore the pos­
sibilities and limits o f freedom in the articulation o f images o f
women in Jewish literature.
We all know about the notoriously negative image o f Roth’s
Sophie Portnoy, as the overbearing, emasculating Jewish mo ther
o f
Portnoy’s Complaint.
And we know that traditional, self-
effacing mothers are common th roughou t his work. It is easy
to condemn Roth ’s fiction as misogynistic — but such a con­
demnation can be facile and unhelpful. Roth clearly writes “as
a man,” creating Jewish-male-writer-narrator-protagonists, such
as Portnoy, and Nathan Zuckerman in
Zuckerman Bound,
are clearly misogynists. But it is a mistake to confuse narrators
with their authors.
Zuckerman Bound
is much concerned with the oversimplifica­
tion involved in confusing literary creations with their “crea­
tors,” and in thinking about the impact o f images in literature
on the rest o f ou r experiences. For example, Zuckerman’s moth­
er expresses a fear o f negative images o f Jews in literature that
can provide some insight into defensiveness about negative im­
ages o f women in literature. Interceding on behalf o f her hus­
band, Zuckerman’s mo ther implores her son not to publish a
story that she fears will fuel anti-Semitism by perpetuating
stereotypes about Jews fighting over money. T ha t the story was
based on an actual experience in which Jews did fight over mon­
ey only makes it worse for her. She doesn’t want Gentiles to
know that some Jews do indeed sometimes behave that way.
Acting as if animosity towards Jews were rational behavior, she
wants to remove the image that might confirm prejudice, and
have Jews portrayed only positively — as if removing the image
could remove the hatred. T h e oversimplification this position