Philip Roth has been criticized for what many consider his attacks on the Jewish community in his work "The Conversion of the Jews." Peter Shaw wrote the following:
Roth’s insistence that he is a friend to the Jews can only theoretically be squared with the loathing for them that he displays in his work. The real message here, or rather the real aspiration, is not to sweep away anti-Semitism, but to transcend being Jewish. If only you try hard enough, Roth’s books tell us, it can be done …for the Jews he has been a friend of the proverbial sort that makes enemies unnecessary. “Portnoy & His Creator.” Commentary May 1969: 77.
Consider this statement in regard to “The Conversion of the Jews.” What is the responsibility of ethnic or minority authors to their groups? Do they have one? Consider the works in the anthology of Jean Toomer or Alice Walker. Might they have received a similar charge?
Half and Half, by Amy Tan
Does the narrator’s mother in “Half and Half” seem comfortable living with a dual cultural heritage. Explain. What in her belief system can be identified as Western and what Chinese?
True West, by Sam Shepard
Consider the setting and its transformation in True West. What happens to the home? What do you think the fire, the heat, the collection of objects, and the overall mess reflect? Does it represent the internal conflict within the characters? Explain.
Gimpel the fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Consider what the rabbi tells Gimpel: “It is written, better to be a fool all your days than for one hour to be evil” (para. 6). Weigh these words against the cruel actions of the townspeople. Do you find the rabbi’s words convincing? Is Gimpel a fool? How, if ever, does the story distinguish between foolishness and faith?
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