The Role of Parenting in Henry Roth’s Call it Sleep
In the novel Call it Sleep, by Henry Roth, one of the hardest tasks is
to truly understand the character of David Schearl. Written from the
perspective of a young child, the reader has to wade through rambling
streams of consciousness filled with significant meaning, as well as,
well-developed mature thoughts. However, you cannot truly comprehend a
character like David unless you fully understand his familial
structure and the effects it has on him. David's parents are important
because they prove to be the source of his rejection and confusion
with the world around him. By rejecting his parents and their culture
David is only left with confusion, guilt, and loneliness. The Schearl
household is filled with secrets, blame and denial that shake the
basic foundations that a family depends on. David's home is lacking
openness and intimacy, and that forces David to look towards other
places, such as religion, for such needs. Upon examining the effects
the family's dysfunctions have on David; one can better understand the
true nature of his character and his search for a personal identity
independent of his parents.
David's relationship to his mother, Genya, is filled with love.
However, as David gets older this love is sometimes replaced by shame.
David, who formally took comfort in being near his mother, is trying
to free himself from only feeling safe in her arms. At the beginning
of the novel, David needed his mother to wait in the stairwell while
he came up stairs because he was so terrified. While later in the
novel, David is proud of himself for walking up the stairs and not
being afraid of anything. However, there were times during this period
when David wanted his mother waiting, and he felt shame in needing his
mother to feel safe. David's deep connection to his mother is the
result of the father, Albert, rejecting both. Albert is not a good
father figure, in the sense that, he doesn't fulfill any of Genya or
David's emotional needs. This absence of a strong husband/ father
figure creates the tight and awkward bond between Genya and David.
Albert's absence in Genya's life creates a huge emotional gap and for
comfort she latches onto David. Another factor playing into the deep
connection between David and Genya is the alienation both feel in
America, a strange land, where neither feels as though they belong.
Genya's inability to assimilate to the American immigrant lifestyle
has left her sheltered and alone in an apartment all day. Having no
peers or equals to spend here time with, Genya is constantly babying
David to ensure that he will not turn elsewhere for his needs. As a
child David thrives on this close relationship because he hates the
ugly outside world. David seeks shelter in his mother's arms from
people like Yussie and his sister, Annie, who wants to play "bad."
David, however, has more interaction with the outside world and finds