Academic journal article Shofar

Indignation

Academic journal article Shofar

Indignation

Article excerpt

Indignation, by Philip Roth. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. 256 pp. $26.00.

Unlike the recent Exit Ghost and Tfoe Dying Animal, which focus on old age and decline, Indignation features Marcus Messner, a college boy in the 1950s. This short powerful novel has an unusual format. The long first section, "Under Morphine," is told by the protagonist while he is deeply unconscious, rather than dead as he believes. On page 54 he tells us, "And even dead, as I am and have been for I don't know how long" - as surprising a line as the one in To the Lighthouse in which the death of the very much alive Mrs. Ramsay of the first section is casually mentioned parenthetically. In the short "Out from Under" section a third person narrator describes Marcus's excruciating, gruesome wounds and death in Korea. So death is front and center again, but here the death is of a nineteen -year-old boy.

Some of Roth's major themes and motifs are present in this novel, and a reader familiar with Roth's entire body of work will find special pleasures. Newark, Roth's and Zuckerman's childhood homeland, is also Marcus Messner's. The joy a boy can experience in learning a demanding trade and especially working beside his father reminds readers of Everyman and American Pastoral. Here the boy's father is a kosher butcher whose diligence and integrity are as memorable as the fathers' work in the earlier novels. Marcus, Markie to his adoring parents, is the quintessential good Jewish boy, excellent student and dutiful son. But when his fearful father tries to control his every move, he leaves for Winesburg College to get away from him. Trying to continue his pattern of top academic achievement while remaining independent on a fraternity-dominated campus, he becomes sexually involved with a beautiful, brilliant but deeply disturbed gentile girl, Olivia Hutton, and bumps heads with the paternalistic dean. …

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