Mid-Century Society and Jewish Stereotypes in Dangling Man and Goodbye, Columbus
Both Bellow’s Dangling Man and Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus focus on varying levels of social stigmatism in mid-century America; and more specifically, both texts point out the stereotypes associated with American Judaism. However, the novels address the matter in a way that does not deal with religion: in fact, neither protagonist seems religious at all; and the stereotypes associated with Judaism in these novels are entirely cultural.
In Dangling Man, the reader is introduced with a review musing the purpose of Joseph, the protagonist, keeping a journal “to explore how he became what he is, and in particular to understand why, about a year ago, he abandoned the philosophical essays he was writing and began to ‘dangle’” (Coetzee xii). Joseph isolates himself from his wife, his brother, and his community as he deals with the inner battles of being conflicted with the freedom of being jobless and the guilt he faces over not living up to society’s expectations. In particular, he faces guilt that is spurned from the Jewish culture that he was raised in and that, no matter how much he tries to remove himself, remains a stringent part of his identity. According to one scholar,
Though Joseph is exploring his spiritual call, he fails to find it. To some extent, he is aware that he should live for his inner heart. The burden and vainness from his living, the coldness and jealousy from the world, his skeptical quest from the inner heart, etc., everything unlucky led him to go to barrack. In the end of the story, he is delighted that he is no longer responsible for himself for he is going to be dominated by others in the military regimes. (Deng 351)
One particular event where Joseph becomes highly defensive about his political/societal beliefs is when he meets with Myron Adler, who wants to speak to him about a potential temporary job. Joseph becomes enraged when, in the restaurant, he is ostracized by a former political acquaintance, Jimmy Burns. He remarks to Adler, “Do you think I care about him? It’s the principle of the thing… Simply because I am no longer a member of their party they have instructed him and boobs like him not to talk to me… I have a right to be spoken to” (Bellow 20). He is unable to let Jimmy’s avoidance go, until it escalates to him shouting in the restaurant: “What do you know about that! Burns won't give me a tumble. I can’t arouse him. I’m just gone. Like that… I’m a petty-bourgeoise renegade; could anything be worse? That idiot! ‘Hey addict!’ [Joseph] shouted” (Bellow 22). While this example does not deal with Jewish stigmatism/stereotyping specifically, it is clear that Bellow was making a...