In Goodbye, Columbus, Defender of the Faith, and The Conversion of the Jews, Roth reflects on the Jewish culture, and what being Jewish means. InGoodbye, Columbus we are also presented with multiple stories that emphasize different aspects of the Jewish people. Roth’s stories have given me reasons to believe that Roth has a negative perspective on the overall meaning of being Jewish and society. Roth brings to light these issue in the Jewish culture and society through, his exploration of class division, spiritual crisis, and Jewish/self-identification.
In the first story, Goodbye, Columbus, The main character, Neil Klugman, is a college graduate who works in a library, and lives with his Aunt Gladys, and Uncle Max. The three of them live in an urban, working class environment. Roth also introduces us to Brenda Patimkin, who is a college student in Boston, and lives with her brother Ron, Julie, and her parents Mr. & Mrs. Patimkin. The Patimkin family is very wealthy, and their wealth is shown in various ways throughout the novel. Roth tells us a story, which would turn out to be nothing more than a “summer romance” between Neil and Brenda. In this story, Roth focuses strongly on class division, self-identification, and Jewish identification.
Since Neil came from a working class family and Brenda upper-middle, social economic orientation played a major role in the story. Neil’s working class family had in place values and traditions that represented what being Jewish meant. On page 58, Aunt Gladys stated to Neil “Since when do Jews live in Short Hills? They couldn’t be real Jews believe me”. Also on page 57, Aunt Gladys got defensive when their modest lifestyle was indirectly compared to the Patimkin’s. Neil mentioned to Aunt Gladys that the Patimkins did not live above their store, causing Aunt Gladys to automatically get defensive stating that they “lived over a store and wasn’t ashamed”. Therefore once Neil mentioned that the Patimkins lived in Short Hills, this automatically prompted them loose their Jewishness according to Aunt Gladys. These statement above are ways for Roth to refer to his negative association with the Jewish community because, a family’s geographic location should not automatically determine who they are (simply because it is not within the Jewish community), nor make another family’s hard work be used as for prejudgment.
In another section of Goodbye, Columbus, Roth reflects on the issues of Jewish identification when he refers to Brenda getting a nose job on page 13. Which is a touchy subject in the Jewish community due to the stereotype that Jewish people have large noses. I feel as though Roth’s message here is that you should be comfortable with yourself as being Jewish and not spend an absurd amount of money to alter you appearance (make your appearance less Jewish).
In the Conversion of the Jews, Roth takes on spiritual issues, and self-identification in the Jewish community. In this story we are introduced to Oscar (Ozzie) Freedman, who like all adolescents, begin to gather more knowledge and naturally have questions regarding faith. Ozzie seems to have a lot of questions regarding Jews beliefs regarding God. Ozzie would always ask Rabbi Bender during free-discussion time for explanations to these questions, and would not receive one. When Ozzie is struck by Rabbi Binder and then calls him a bastard, he runs to the roof and begins to question himself and wonder “if it’s me”, or if he is wrong for feeling the way he feels; which is what he has been taught to believe. During Oscar’s antics on the roof he comes to the realization that he has to speak his mind and be a voice for others to question what they do not understand, instead of letting questions fade away. I believe that the main point of this passage by Roth was to allude to the Jewish community inability to be tolerant. I believe this because in The Conversion of the Jews, speaking back to the Rabbi was as to say that he does not know what he is talking about, when Ozzie was just searching for explanation. I also believe that this story shows that though Ozzie actions were childish and naïve, his actions ended up serving a high purpose. This is because he essentially broke down all of the comforting barriers of power in the Jewish community leaving the Rabbi powerless by the end. While also symbolizing hope to his classmates in expressing their opinion.
In the Defender of the Faith we follow the story of a WWII veteran named Nathan Marx who is Jewish. Marx begin to interact with a peculiar private named Sheldon Grossbart. Initially we are made to believe that Grossbart is just a religious guy who wants equal treatment for Jewish people in the Army. By the end of the story it is very clear that Grossbart is nothing more than a manipulative individual, who uses his religion to get special privileges that he wants. But in the end it all comes back to haunt him. I think that The Defender of the Faith symbolizes a bit of self-identification vs. Jewish identification, because Marx was trying to reconnect with himself after serving in the war, and saw the opportunity to do so through these Jewish soldiers, and even though he had to go through everything they had to go through in basic training, Marx still attempted to be fair and reasonable. I also think that Roth wants readers to appreciate kind gestures when they receive them, instead of taking advantage of them. Grossbart took Marx’s kindness as a weakness, and paid for it at the end of the story.
Overall I believe that multiple key issues in the Jewish community were brought to light in Goodbye, Columbus and Roth was not afraid to touch on each one bit by bit with his stories. Goodbye, Columbus was about Neil and essentially young Jewish males, seeking knowledge (symbolized by the library), and bettering yourself to possibly overlook what others consider acceptable. Through the book Neil is wondering what is it that he loves about Brenda, when it is put into our face the entire time, her wealth, and his pursue to obtain what is surely fantasy. The same way the little African American boy at the library has fantasies about going to Tahiti. This is the reason why Neil took a liking to the kid, and saw himself in the little boy. In The Conversion of the Jews it’s all about spiritual crisis, and what should be tolerated. Roth wants the Jewish community to question themselves as to why Ozzie curiosity towards religion is an issue. Roth wants people to see that it is natural and should be tolerated. The Defender of the Faith reflected on self, and Jewish identification, and I also believe that I Roth wants kind gestures to be treated with care and respect, or bad things will surely catch up to you.