Breaking the Silences: Jewish-American Women Writing the Holocaust

By Brauner, David | Yearbook of English Studies, Annual 2001 | Go to article overview

Breaking the Silences: Jewish-American Women Writing the Holocaust


Brauner, David, Yearbook of English Studies


Abstract

This article focuses on a detailed reading of three short stories from the 1980s (Cynthia Ozick's 'The Shawl', Rebecca Goldstein's 'The Legacy of Raizel Kaidish', and Leslea Newman's 'A Letter to Harvey Milk'), and argues that the recent profusion of short fiction by American-Jewish women, much of it dealing with the Holocaust, represents a breaking of two silences: the taboo imposed on American-Jewish women writers by the canonical dominance of male figures such as Bellow, Roth, and Malamud, and the absence in their fiction of the Holocaust. It suggests that there is in these short stories an ambivalent aesthetic of Holocaust fiction at work: that is to say, a desire to give a voice to wartime Jewish suffering, and the fear that to do so will inevitably involve aestheticizing, and therefore profaning, that suffering. This manifests itself in these stories in an unresolved tension between speech and silence.

Literature is often a matter of response to the challenge of the literature that went before. Work by women swings not only on this pendulum, as most writing does; it swings on a second pendulum, within the first. Women reply to what is expected of them as women -- complying if they are compliant, rebelling if they are not. (Norma Rosen).[1]

The greatest paradox forms about the Holocaust, it seems to me, for novelists, in the tension between writing and not writing about it. If the writer treats the subject, the risk is that it may be falsified, trivialized. Even a 'successful' treatment of the subject risks an aestheticizing or a false ordering of it, since whatever is expressed in art conveys the impression that it, too, is subject to the laws of composition. Yet not to write means omitting the central event of the twentieth century. (Norma Rosen)[2]

One of the most striking developments in post-war American fiction has been the emergence of a number of male Jewish-American novelists as mainstream, even canonical figures. In the latest edition of the Norton Anthology of American Literature, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and Bernard Malamud all have entries; among contemporary American-Jewish women only Grace Paley rates a mention. The gender imbalance is even greater in Tony Hilfer's Longman Guide to post-1940 American fiction in which Bellow, Roth, Malamud, J. D. Salinger, Norman Mailer, and Joseph Heller are all given individual consideration, whereas Cynthia Ozick's is the lone female Jewish entry. When Martin Amis observes, 'The twentieth-century novel belongs to [. . .] Jewish-Americans',[3] it is these male writers he is referring to, rather than their female counterparts: Anzia Yezierska, Hortense Calisher, Tillie Olsen, Ozick, and Paley. Leaving aside his personal enthusiasm, amounting almost to discipleship, for the work of Bellow, and the question of whether his aesthetic values are underpinned by peculiarly male sensibilities, there is undeniably a generic, if not a gender, bias operating here. Although he has himself written a collection of short stories, for Amis (and indeed for most of the still predominantly male academic establishment) it is the novel that is the index of greatness in fiction. This immediately loads the dice against women fiction writers, who have often been, and still are, drawn to the short story form.[4] When it comes to Jewish-American women writers, certainly, the three most influential figures, Ozick, Paley, and Olsen, are all best known for their work in this genre. Moreover, in the last ten years or so, there has been an explosion of writing, most of it in the form of short stories, by American-Jewish women.[5] If it was once possible to speak of Jewish-American fiction and mean male Jewish-American fiction, it should be so no longer. While Bellow and Mailer are still writing and Philip Roth continues to go from strength to strength, many of the old guard (Singer, Malamud, Heller, Stanley Elkin) are now dead, and among the younger generation it is women writers (most of whom have made their names writing short stories) who are leading the way. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Breaking the Silences: Jewish-American Women Writing the Holocaust
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    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.