Academic journal article Philip Roth Studies

Written, Unwritten, and Vastly Rewritten: Meyer Levin's in Search and Philip Roth's "Defender of the Faith," the Plot against America, and Indignation

Academic journal article Philip Roth Studies

Written, Unwritten, and Vastly Rewritten: Meyer Levin's in Search and Philip Roth's "Defender of the Faith," the Plot against America, and Indignation

Article excerpt

Meyer Levin (1905-1981) graduated from the University of Chicago, became the club and social director of the Chicago's Jewish People's Institute, and was an avid Zionist in his travels to Palestine and in his work on the Yagut kibbutz. After retutning to the US, he was alternately a social worker, newspaper reporter, and film critic. Because of his opposition to fascism, he became a war correspondent in Spain in 1937, and latet covered the European front for the Overseas News Agency during the Second World War, reporting on concenttation-camp atrocities - including those at Theresienstadt, Buchenwald, Bergen Belsen, and Dachau. He was also a film documentarían of the plight of Holocaust refugees trying to settle in Palestine and was a prolific novelist and playwright. He is chiefly known for The Old Bunch (1937) - about a group of Jewish kids growing up in the Chicago of Al Capone and Big Bill Thompson - and his best-selling Compuhion (1956), for its account of the cold-blooded intellectualism of the Leopold-Loeb murder case. Levin is remembered, too, for his principled obsession with, and legal battles over, rights to the staging of The Diary of Anne Frank; he lamented the usurpation and corruption of his initiative by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and Lillian Hellman, who, he claimed, had minimized Nazi brutality and Anne's Jewish identity in the Broadway production of the play. That controversy, as recent scholarship suggests, reverberates in Roth's The Ghost Writer (1979), which is said to vindicate Meyer Levin's rage.1 Roth's imaginative encounter with Levin goes much further, specifically in the synchronicity of concerns ovet Jewish identity in Levin's autobiography In Search (1950), in Roth's short story "Defender of the Faith" (1959), and in Roth's novels The Plot Against America (2004) and Indignation (2008).

Levin believed that anti-Zionist forces in the publishing industry had led to the rejection of the manuscript of In Search in the United States. He therefore printed that volume in a limited private edition of 1000 copies, published in English, at his own expense, through Author's Press, in France. Praise of the work from Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann helped Levin secure an American publisher several months later, in 1950.2WhUe the book has been a resource for historians of the Holocaust, the literary value of the natrative resides in its psychoanalytical approach to autobiography and in its pertinence for the way Roth envisions several of his retrospecrive, ostensibly autobiographical narrators, including the roughly seventy-year-old narrator of The Plot Against America.5 The value of/« Search for Roth's fiction pertains to the fact, noted on the dust jacket of the first American printing of/« Search, that the volume is an "unflinching self-analysis" in which "a noted novelist reveals his epic quest through America, France, Spain, Poland and Israel. It led across forbidden borders to self-discovery." That voyage, for Levin, entailed frequent sightings of his early shame over being Jewish, but also ultimate pride in both his American and Jewish identities. Whereas, for example, Levin's second novel Frankie and Johnny (1930) avoided any mention of the characters' Jewish identities because, as he remarks in In Search, "I had absorbed the prevailing conviction that you couldn't successfully write about Jews for the American market" (39), his later My Father's House (1947) - both in novel and film version - allowed Levin to identify with the orphaned Holocaust survivor, David, who, as Levin explains in his autobiography, anchors his sense of Judaism in the paternity of the ancient land of Israel (520). 4 Thus, while the attention in In Search to Jewish self-shame may at first seem inconsistent with Levin's legal campaign against the de-Judaized stage production of The Diary of Anne Frank - a topic pursued in his novel The Fanatic (1963) and in his second autobiogtaphy, The Obsession (1973) - that aversion to the secularization of Holocaust atrocity is an extension of Levin's lifelong quest to accept and reconcile his own identity as an American Jew. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.