Jewish Writers by Mark Shechner

Jewish writing has occupied an important place in American literature. The major Jewish writers who have contributed to the national literature of America are; Soul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Bernard Malamud, I.B singer, Philip Roth and others. American English literature has been contributed by these major writers. To call these writers merely Jewish is not good and yet not to call them Jewish is also not good.

Still because they are Jewish, Jewish culture or elements of Jewishness come here and there in their writings. If we call them American writers, Jewish cultural markers get lost, and if we call them typically Jewish by considering their cultural elements, the national elements that we find in their writings get background.

The Jewish Writers and intellectuals appeared in American literature mainly after the great immigration of 1881-1924. Though many Jewish writers entered American literature in the 1920s and 1930s, the major contemporary Jewish writers appeared only in the 1940s. It was mainly between 1945 and 1955 that the Jewish writers in America come forward as a producers of and spokesmen for an influential modern literature.Now it is obvious that most of the Jewish fiction writers started their career after Second World War.Therefore, their experiences were quite similar.

And another common fiction factor that they shared was their cultural identity of Jewish group. These two common factors represent the Jewishness of Jewish writers. And this Jewishness is the most important feature of Jewish fiction. When Jews entered America, they strictly led a traditional life. But from the 18 th century due to various waves of Enlightment, liberalism, socialism etc the Jews revolted against the traditional life. The first and second generation Jews in America detached itself from holy books and got associated with the new ideas and moral charges .Moreover, the second generation Jews not only broke away from the tradition but also brought secular revolutionism. So another feature of Jewish Fiction is breaking away from the tradition by getting associated with new idea and moral challenges, and also by bringing secular revolutionism.Besides breaking away from the tradition, the adoption of English language is yet another feature of Jewish fiction. Especially, the second generation Jewish writers adopted English language, and the adoption was made not just to enter the American mainstream but also to release the long suppressed yearning in to the world since the English language is intonation.The second generation Jewish writers as mentioned above, belongs to the post war era. In this era, the important feature of the Jewish fiction is the horror brought by the World War. All the postwar Jewish American fictions are their themes dealt with war; brutality; depression, unemployment, the individual sentiments and sensibilities. In addition , a new feature developed in postwar Jewish fiction were modern dilemma- disillusionment with ideology and politics; isolation both from one’s own past and from an increasingly rich society. Those Jewish writers who started their career early in the 1940s, are definitely affected by the great Depression the rise of fascism, Spanish civil war and above all, the World Wars . So, the fiction written by Jews in the next three decades share a common feel of disaster and a sense of loss and deracination. With such sentiments, it was quite natural for the Jewish writers to write favoring socialism.


Bellow is a Jewish American novelist and a winner of noble prize for literature in 1976. Bellow’s novels depict the struggle of individuals to preserve their personal identities in an indifferent society. Bellow’s first novel is Dangling Man, which is the perfect copy of existentialism showing how modern people are alienated. This novel is also the symbol of the end of pre-war ideology.The Victim, Picaresque of the Adventure of Augie March, Seize the day, Herzog, Humboldt’s Gift are his mostly admired novels of Bellow. Saul Bellow being a postwar writer is stuck with the theme like alienation, victimization and marginality. Therefore the important feature of his work is that they are based on the note of isolation and drift. For example his first novel Dangling Man is the perfect copy of existentialism showing how modern people are alienated. Bellow, a dominating literary figure of the 50s in American literature, widens the vision and leads himself to the mainstream American literature. Bellow is the one with varieties, who represents many renowned mainstream writers like Faulkner, who is both historicist and regionalist. Bellow’s Augie March reflects Mark Twain’s visionary sense as we find in his Huckleberry Finn. His masterpiece Herzog is a perfect piece of Emersonian influences with transcendental vision. And in Dangling Man and The Victim, he follows Hemingway closes to the Anglo- American writing .Hence in Bellow’s works, we find varieties of influences, and he deals with the subject mater like war, holocaust and the decline of the west. Not only Bellow, but overall Jewish writer in the post war decades seem to stick to the terms like alienation, victimization and marginality and so Jews were known as ‘the universal estrangement of man’.


Malamud is an American novelist. He is also a short story writer. His books focus on Jewish experiences in America. Like Bellow Malamud started his career after Second World War so their experience about war is quite similar. Moreover they both attempt to establish the cultural identity for Jewish group. For these reasons, Jewishness is the main feature found in the works of Malamud as well as Bellow. Bernard Malamud being a post war writer includes the theme of alienation, but he uses schlemiel character to indicate this alienation. In this respect, he is different from other Jewish writers because he shows the success of schlemiel character and yet, he emphasizes up on the Christian values. Malamud believes that Jewish people should not hide their identity. That is why he is very different Jewish writer because he shows the success of schlemiel characters and yet, he emphasizes up on the Christian values. Though his basic attitude to life is Christian, he has not forgotten his identity as Jew. Sex denied and the moral of denying the sex is the basis of Malamud’s stories. He usually uses epiphany and the language of poignancy (regret and sadness). Due to this poignancy, his fictions depict pessimism-he is reluctant to have happy ending in his works. Also, he sees Jewish people degenerating morally- this may even be the cause of his pessimism. However all the heroes of Malamud dream to get their dream girls, who are physically appealing and sexually pure as well. Finally another quality of Jewishness that we find in Malamud’s novels is ambivalence. When he has a hero looking for pleasure-dream girl-he has this thirst on the one hand while on the other that is not achievable. This leads to ambivalence in Malamud’s fictions. Malamud’s fictions are: The Natural, The Assistant, A New Life, The Fixer, The Magic Barrel, Idiot’s First.


Malamud, Bellow as well as others are the Jewish writers who wrote in English, so they are called America Jewish writers. But I.B Singers is called an American – Yiddish. He is greatly devoted to Yiddish language and culture. Being a Jewish writer, it is expected to him to be highly moralist. Of course, he is moralist but not like Malamud. Malamud is very much concerned with sexual moralism. He moralizes his character’s deep desire. His character’s success or failure is attributed to their sexual morality.The exploration of the demonic remains the theme of Singer’s both short stories and novels. His use of demonic element is the perfect vehicle for a tormented and ambivalent sexuality. Thus, his Jewishness, although slightly different from that of other writers is visible in his work. It is not that sexually immoral characters are not punished in his novels, but these things are put in footnotes to the main attraction of the text. Sexually immoral characters are not necessarily punished in his novels. The suspension of moralizing leads to full exploration of the demonic, which is a departure from conventional Jewish writers.
Singer is greatly devoted to Yiddish language and culture. Some of his famous works are:

( Story Collection)
Gimple the Fool
The Spinoza of Market Street

The Family Moskat
Satan in Goray
Shadow in the Hudson


He is a Jewish American writer whose books frequently explore the unconscious impulses that drive human behaviors. His service in US army during World War II provided background material for his naturalistic novel The Naked and the Dead. Sex and violence often play major roles and his works frequently express bitterness towards society and strong liberal philosophy.His Deer Park is considered by many to be a novel of disappointment. Mailer another novel An American Dream and Why are we in Vietnam? explores the place of violence in modern American life. During 1960s Mailer developed a clear journalistic style with the intention of presenting actual events with all the drama and complexity found in fiction. His book Armies of the Night was the culmination (Peak) of these efforts. The Military remains Mailer’s favorite metaphor standing for organized national violence and collective repression e.g. The Armies of the Night.In some of his works he shows distrust of the dominant technological culture and its achievement. Just after the war as a rebellious young man, intellectual and independent Marxist Mailer came on the scene as a writer of un-constant genius and more consistently of unfulfilled promise. His initial literary ambition was to become a major American novelist, a young Hemingway. His popular work The Naked and the Dead is the study of power at two levels.
(1) the irrational brutality of organized destruction
(2) the sexual ferocity of the masculine contest
Besides, Mailer is largely known and valued for his public performances, his lectures, manifestos speeches and his journalistic report on the state of nation and its culture.


Philip Roth started writing in the 60s. He started as a modernist and moved on to post modernism. His earlier writing contains schlemiel character and the next important thing in his work is sex psychology, like Goodbye Columbus included premarital sex.
By the 50s and 60s, as there was an economic, boom in America and most of the Jewish people became economically stable, they developed exhibitionist tendency. So, Roth is very critical towards this tendency. In this way, Jewish- American life in particular and American modern society in general are the subjects of his comedies of manners ,which include, Goodbye ,Columbus, Letting Go, When She was Good, The Breast.Roth is a good comedian, his comedy are state of balance between calamity and absurdity. Roth is a reader of psychologists, in this sense he is closer to Freud but his later fiction e.g. My life As a Man are trans-psychological dealing with the psychology . Remarkably Roth rehearses on sex puzzlement and sex psychology and carries on the search of meaning and solution.