Page 95 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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LOWIN / PHILLIP ROTH AND THE NOVEL OF REDEMPTION
8 7
and the site to transform them into an artistic representation
— not of Jewish social reality but of a Jewish problem, the prob­
lem of identity and self-transformation. Irving Howe is yards
wide of the mark when he states, in his reconsideration of Philip
Roth, that “it is difficult, if one bears in mind Roth’s entire
work, to take at face value this solemn espousal of yeshiva O r­
thodoxy as the positive force in this story; I cannot believe that
the yeshivah and all it represents has been brought into play
for any reason other than as a stick with which to beat
Woodenton.”9
CHARACTER IN SEARCH
The story is not about Woodenton; it is about a troubled man
named Eli. Every time we encounter Eli in the story, it is as
a man flirting dangerously with a search for depth, the depth
which Weissmandl begged his neighbors to look for. Roth sets
up a color contrast between the white pillars of the Yeshiva
and the mournful black suit of the Yeshiva’s non-English-
speaking
shammes,
an “old” man who has lost his family in the
Holocaust. His only connection with his past, his only way of
keeping the memory of what he had and what he has lost is,
Tzuref tries to explain to Eli, his black suit.
During one of his visits to the Yeshiva, Eli Peck comes upon
the refugee in prayer, obviously reciting the section of the af­
ternoon service during which one beats one’s breast in contri­
tion. “His right fist was beating his chest. And then Eli heard
a sound rising with each knock on the chest. What a moan!
It could raise hair, stop hearts, water eyes. And it did all three
to Eli, plus more. Some feeling crept into him for whose deep­
ness he could find no word.” (GC, p. 281) Finally, Eli succeeds
in swapping his green tweed suit — a symbol for the pastoral
life? The conclusion to this essay will give this conjecture cre­
dence — for the old Jew’s black one. He thus succeeds in ob­
taining for himself the Jewish identity that comes with carrying
about the Jews’ “peckele” of sorrows.10 The identity is so deep
9. Howe, p. 143.
10. The association between the name Eli Peck and the Yiddish idiom for bur­
den, “peckele” may not be far-fetched. Cf., reading aloud, the following:
“Eli Peck Eli Peck Eli Peck Eli Peck. He began to walk slowly, shifting
his weight down and forward with each syllable: E-li-Peck-E-li-Peck-E-li-