Page 16 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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Anglo-American Jewish Writing:
the Shifting Center
A t
t h e
b e g in n in g
of this century the fundamental crisis for
Jewish writers in England and the United States was that of
assimilation. The immigrants and their children were subject
to the irresistible attractions of their new environment, its cul­
tural norms, its economic opportunities, its language, its rituals.
This may be termed the centrifugal pull. On the other side
they were faced by the equally powerful centripetal pressure
of their Jewish past, its religious and social norms, its obligations,
its family loyalties, its texts and its memories. There is thus an
unresolved tension — the simultaneous attraction and repulsion
of the outside world and the simultaneous attraction and re­
pulsion of the Jew’s own unrevoked Jewish identity.
In a book first published in 1959 (
The Dual Image: A Study
of the Figure of the Jew in English Literature),1
I proposed a way
of formulating this tension: I claimed that what we have here
is a fractured or dual image. In Abraham Cahan’s
The Rise of
David Levinsky
(1917) or in the writings of Israel Zangwill, the
central characters lead double lives. They belong to the ghetto
and yet they cannot bear to remain in it. They belong to the
wide world of Gentile society but they are not quite at home
there either. The result is that they move uneasily between the
West End and the East End of London or between the Lower
East Side of New York and the finer districts to the North and
West, finding no secure resting place in either location. None
of the various solutions and compromises quite satisfies these
dreamers, though they might try them all: Reform Judaism,
socialism, conversion to Christianity. They can never become
1. Harold Fisch,
The Dual Image: A Study of the Figure of the few in English Lit­
(London: 1959).