Ain Shams University Faculty of Al-Alsun Dept.

of English Postgraduate Studies Philology Journal

The Lived Nightmare: A Psycho-cultural Study in Philip Roth·s Portnoy·s Complaint (1967) : (1967)
In partial fulfilment of the M.A degree Submitted by: Basma Abd El-Khaleq El-Shimy. Under the supervision of:

Dr. Fadwa Kamal Abd El-Rahman Associate. Prof. of English language and literature Faculty of Al-Alsun Ain Shams University

Dr. Noha Faisal Mohamed Associate. Prof. of English language and literature Faculty of Al-Alsun Ain Shams University 



The publication of Portnoy¶s complaint (1969) came ten years after Philip Roth¶s first book Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories (1959), officially establishing Roth¶s literary status as one of the most prominent post-war American novelists. The novel fulfils the early promise made by Goodbye, Columbus (1959), a promise of breaking free from the Orthodox Jewish tradition in the American fiction. In his critical study Waiting for the End (1964), Leslie Fiedler refers to what he calls the post-war µtriumph¶ of the Jewish novelists in America during the 1950¶s and 1960¶s. The American Jewish fiction, with its prominent practitioners such as Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, and Philip Roth, naturally reflected the cultural changes that took place in the American society and the lives of the Jews as an ethnic group. After the World War II, economic conditions improved and many Jews entered the middle class by virtue of education. Many were faced with the dilemma of either embracing an ethnic heritage growingly detached from their American identity or assimilating into the Gentile society. Accordingly, a generation of American scholars and writers has emerged. Such writers devoted their writing to exploring such conflict and the ensuing feelings of confusion and alienation. Writers such as Bellow, Malamud, and Roth were regarded as secular Americans or humanists first, and Jews second as they reflected in their work obvious rootlessness and scepticism.

If Roth is generally reputable for his penchant for writing novels that shock readers and critics, it was PC that established such reputation. In 1969 PC had been the ground-breaking as well as scandalous best seller, for it had shocked the American Jewish community as well as the literary community at large. Many Rabbis and other Jewish leaders openly accused Roth of being a typical selfhating Jew; [H]is novels had been labelled pornographic (take for example, Portnoy's Complaint and The Breast), vulgar (The Great American Novel and The Anatomy Lesson), misogynistic (My Life as a Man and The Dying Animal), self-absorbed (The Counterlife and Deception), politically slipshod (Our Gang and I Married a Communist), politically incorrect (Sabbath's Theater and The Human Stain), and even anti-Semitic (back to Goodbye Columbus and Portnoy's Complaint). (Royal 1)

Despite all the above accusations, in 2001, the Time magazine chose Philip Roth as "America's Best Novelist", which actually surprised many people. The fact is that many casual readers of Roth's works take what they read for its face value without realizing the complex nature of Roth's narrative tone. They judgingly view Roth as "the controversial bad boy of American letters" (Royal 2). Speaking about himself, Roth remarks: "Sheer Playfulness and Deadly Seriousness are my closest friends" ("Eight Books" 111). Elsewhere, he ironically responds to such type of affronted readers: In their eyes I commit not amusing mischief, not responsible mischief but irresponsible mischief; with a crazy intensity that is unremitting, I enact a farce about issues that are anything but farcical [. . . .they] have reminded me more than once that my impertinence imposes on even our gravest concerns a demeaning and most ridiculous shape. Because of this my mischief-making is something other than a relief. It is a menace and a scandal. ("Jewish Mischief" 1, 20)

The sarcastic tone in the above passage signifies the flair with which Roth plays his duplicity game in order to make out of the farcical a serious statement about contemporary American Jewry. The present paper is an attempt to glimpse beneath one of Roth's masks ± the self-hating Jew ± to reveal the social satire behind his tirade against the Jewish Middle-class habits and values. In achieving so, Roth has employed the most compelling narrative technique of "[grounding] the mythological in the recognizable, the verifiable, the historical´ (Reading Myself and Others 39-40).

The Narrative of the novel is constructed as a stream-of-consciousness monologue that is only loosely linear in chronology. It proceeds through a series of what Roth himself calls ³blocks of consciousness´ (Reading Myself and Others 15). The advantages of this narrative choice are numerous. First, it is suitable for the confessional nature of the novel, as the apparently random episodes only associated inside Portnoy¶s memory are typical of a patient's improvisations on his analyst couch. Second, Bernard F. Rodgers argues that the psychoanalytic monologue ³provides a realistic justification for Portnoy¶s vehement soul-baring and finger-pointing, for his use of words and images

the patient describes what is fixing him. Another closely-related advantage of such technique is the artistic freedom it allows. Throughout the monologue. Roth defines Portnoy¶s complaint as ³A disorder in which strongly-felt ethical and altruistic impulses are perpetually warring with extreme sexual longings. Roth points out that the psychoanalytic monologue framework enabled him legitimately to ³bring into my fiction the sort of intimate. and situation. His seemingly paradoxical ³only it ain¶t no joke!´ immediately negating the previous emphatic description suggests an oscillation .´ with its ethnic implications. In his prefatory note to the novel. problematizes the questions of identity. his description of his existence as a ³Joke´ sheds light on the ironic nature of his status. the sudden shifts in time. The aim of the analysis is to obtain emotion insight and reach catharsis. exhibitionistic. create exactly that ambience of fluidity and surprise which is most congenial to the genre of low comedy´ (Grebstein 408). Dr. his choice of the word ³Jewish. locate. PC is written in the form of a long psychoanalytic monologue narrated by Alexander Portnoy and addressed to his psychoanalyst. For Portnoy puts it clearly that his complaint consists of living ³in the middle of a Jewish joke! ² only it ain¶t no joke!´(37). In his book Reading Myself and Others (1961).which could be unacceptable in a more public context. often of a perverse nature. which resembles dancing on a tight rope. and sketches. shameful sexual detail [«] that in another fictional environment would have struck me as pornographic. ³the very randomness and unpredictability of what is narrated. in the process. The phrase ³in the middle´ suggests that his existence is suspended somewhere between two conflicting forces. Furthermore. also ³the Jewish Joke´ in Freudian terms has implications of self-abuse and mockery.´ Such raging war does not only lend itself to a psychological interpretation. Furthermore. a history of his boyhood and adolescence as a young American Jew. it also has a cultural overlay. Spielvogel. and nothing but obscene´ (216-17). the narrative technique contributes to the comic effect intended by Roth. and also for his emphasis on sexual memories´ (87).

The opening chapter or part of Portnoy¶s long psychoanalytic monologue. (111-112). A different name for ³censorship´ is ³the superego. 3. On the other hand. the anxiety that occur as a result of attempting to repress strong emotional content. The title of the chapter evokes uncanny feelings of both delight and sadness. the uncanny µcompulsion to repeat¶ and the return of the repressed in traumatic nightmares. ³The Most Unforgettable Character I¶ve Met´ portrays his mother as a superego figure. The first component under discussion is the censorship system. conscience. the Superego can be characterized as follows: 1. which is typical of this absurd intermediary state of his Jewish existence.´ or the morality principle which represents one¶s residue of parental influence. The third component is the distressing process of such breakdown of the system. 2. According to Brenner. The nightmare. and third. It refers to the protective component of the psyche which prevents the irrational repudiated impulses of the Id from penetrating into the conscious level and manifesting themselves in any activity during day time or during sleep. the evil ³repudiated wish´ (254) emanating from the Id that becomes so strong that it overpowers the censorship system (which is the second component). according to the Freudian theory. Critical self-observations. consists of three psychic components. Self-punishment. it is a parody of that long familiar school assignment. the intermediary state or limbo between two conflicting forces that traumatic nightmares represents. The literary equivalent of the first element of the nightmare pattern is Sophie Portnoy.The approval or disapproval of actions and wishes on the grounds of rectitude. second. on the one hand. Self-praise or self-love as a reward for virtuous or desirable thoughts and actions. First. which is the main source of anxiety that the sleeper experiences.between a realistic and a non-realistic state. The demand for reparation or repentance of wrong-doing 5. and restraint. 4. it evokes a vague sense of sadness because the mother appears to be only horribly . The relevance of the Freudian account on the nightmare and the uncanny as well as Homi Bhabha¶s notion of ambivalence and hybridity to Portnoy¶s complaint consists in three factors: First.

Sophie Portnoy is considered ³the most memorable and fully elaborated caricature of the Jewish mother´ (Ravits 6) in the history of American fiction at large. according to Freud. however. even while he¶s away at school: She was so deeply. As a young school boy. Portnoy warns his analyst of a traditional diagnosis of his illness: ³There¶s more here than just adolescent resentment and Oedipal rage´ (PC 71). imbedded in my consciousness that for the first year of school I seem to have believed that each of my teachers was my mother in disguise. (1) Portnoy ascribes to his mother supernatural powers which uncannily relate to old primitive perceptions of the universe. labour organizing. Not only is she unforgettable to Portnoy¶s memory. in part. at a later part of the novel. Her literary character has outraged many women as it has ³distorted their own memories of the hard work. As soon as the last bell had sounded. Further. and sacrifices of their mothers and themselves´ (qtd in Ravits 8). Instead of causing me to give up my delusions. confirms the archaic µsurmounted¶ primitive universal beliefs of supernatural powers which produce the uncanny fear. The epigraph or prefatory note to the novel clearly associates Portnoy's suffering. wondering as I ran if I could possibly make it to our apartment before she had succeeded in transforming herself.unforgettable. And then it was always a relief not to have caught her between incarnations anyway. Sophie is keen on preserving her little boy¶s perfect neatness: ³For mistakes she checked . Portnoy believes that his mother is closely watching him. and setting out my milk and cookies. His mother¶s imagined omnipotence.´ or ³Superego´. That ³more´ is the premise of the mother¶s literary identification with The Freudian ³censorship. to his mother ³[m]any of the symptoms can be traced to the bonds obtaining in the mother-child relationship.´ However. The element of ³critical observation´ mentioned by Brenner is vividly given shape in Sophie¶s portrayal. the feat merely intensified my respect for her powers. Invariable she was already in the kitchen by the time I arrived. I would rush off for home. The very opening of the chapter introduces the mother as a perpetual watcher through a ³lens of magical realism that shows a dangerous fascination with her´ (Ravits 16).

That is. the butcher to make sure he¶s doing his job properly. she is the only one who has ³the common sense´ (12). she watches ³like a hawk´ (11). Her close monitoring hardly leaves any room for Portnoy¶s privacy. those things don¶t bother me. every seam and crease of my body´ (12). Sophie whispers to Alex: ³next week is his birthday. Who he is watched by is his mother. Answer me.´ says my mother sternly. ³somewhere between ten and fifteen. are you in pain? Do you want me to call the doctor? Are you in pain. I want an answer from you. ³I want to see what you¶ve done in these. at study-time.´ ³Yuh. my socks. While at the cemetery. Roth depicts a Portnoy-like figure who is. the father we rarely see´ (4). yuhhh²" ³Alex. Sophie. to clear the weeds off their relatives' graves. for dirt. another aspect of the mother¶s superego personality is revealed.´ ³Alex. worried about her son. as the mother puts it.my sums. She has the melodramatic ability of turning the least transgression into a great offence. my neck. Alex that¶s not a . Portnoy. her ability to influence her son through guilt. In a comic episode. But he¶ll be sixty-six. my nails. The total devotion of the mother to her house and the life-long sacrifice she made for Alex become his greatest tormentor. Portnoy mentions. and especially at mealtime. (19) With the onset of Portnoy¶s puberty. who gets excellent grades in school and is always combed and courteous«he is watched at bed time. Urging him to telephone his father on his birthday. pretends to have diarrhea to escape his mother¶s observation. obsessed with adolescent masturbation. nuhhh. Her critical observation is not confined to her son¶s neatness and behaviour. Such sketch of the mother as the perpetual critical monitor is reminiscent of the domestic image that Roth describes in an essay titled ³The New Jewish Stereotypes. Did you eat French fries after school? Is that why you¶re sick like this?´ ³Nuhhh. plus my birthday. aren¶t you? I want to know exactly where it hurts.´ In this essay. for holes. That Mother¶s Day came and went without a card. talks to him through the lavatory door: Alex. I don¶t like the sound of this at all. I don¶t want you to flush the toilet.

which at that time I believe will be endless"(15). Portnoy¶s sense of guilt is aggravated due to his practise of masturbation: ³Do you get what I¶m saying I was raised by Hottentots and Zulus! I couldn¶t even contemplate drinking a glass of milk with my Salami sandwich without giving serious offence to God Almighty. the mother occasionally rewards little Portnoy for his good deeds. thus releasing his male fear of castration. Alex ± that¶s a land mark in a life. When Alex refused to eat. To make Brenner¶s sketch of the superego complete. and has little sawlike teeth« Doctor. As a young man. which is the fear of abandonment: "My mother has no choice but to throw the doublelock on our door. The second component of the Freudian nightmare pattern is the evil repudiated wish that seeks to penetrate into the conscious part of the psyche. I drop to the door mat to beg forgiveness for my Sin (which is what again?) and promise her nothing but perfection for the rest of our lives. thus unleashing another childhood fear. seven years old.´ (34-35). she held a knife over him. He describes his parents as ³The outstanding producers and packagers of guilt in our time!´ (36).¶ my mother coos so lovingly to me. It wouldn¶t kill you´ (36). So you¶ll send a card. It is made of stainless steel. why oh why oh why oh why does a mother pull a knife on her own son? I am six. causing the breakdown of the censorship system. His desperate quest for sexual gratification . Portnoy describes his predicament simply as one of being ³torn by desires that are repugnant to my conscience. µfor being such a hard-working boy? Your favourite winter meal. the superego element of punishment is also embodied in the mother. ³'You know what you¶re going to have for dinner. This is when I start to hammer to be let in. and a conscience repugnant to my desires´ (20).baby. why. Imaging then what my conscience gave me for all that jerking off. "So my mother sites down in a chair beside me with a long bread knife in her band. Besides the rack of guilt. Lamb Stew¶´ (28). how do I know she really wouldn¶t use it?" (16) The urge for rectitude by the mother is best exemplified in the episode where Alex describes how Sophie used to lock him out of the apartment when he did something wrong.

He has learnt from these movies that ³America is a Shikse nestling under your arm´ (83). Portnoy has been longing for the American girls he has seen in the movies. The dream of the Shiksa" (15-16).is perpetually warring with his parental upbringing and its notions of goodness. so healthy so blond´ (145). runs counter to his mother¶s warning: ³DON'T RUN FIRST THING TO A BLONDIE. The onset of such lascivious life begins with his practice of adolescent masturbation where masturbation becomes Portnoy¶s primary means of asserting himself. Thereal McCoy is a blonde ice-Skater who is ³so gorgeous. He finds satisfaction in imagining a partner who calls him ³Big Boy´ (23) that distracts him from the suffocating monitoring of his mother. The Jewish girls in the stories are mothers and sisters. defiantly. In his essay ³The New Jewish Stereotypes. PLEASE! BECAUSE SHE'LL TAKE YOU FOR ALL YOU'RE WORTH . He finds it impossible ³to be bad ± and enjoy it!´ (39). one of these suggests that such fascination is. a fascination with the mysterious Other: "I must hasten to point out that in these stories the girls to whom their Gentile Comrades lead the heroes are never Jewish girls. Portnoy¶s dream girl. and his degrading secret life. in essence. Alex finds himself locked up in a cycle of guilt and shame further aggravated by the disparity between his public role as an Assistant Commissioner on Human Opportunity. whom he names Thereal McCoy. Portnoy's quest for the American beauty is given shape through the mythical girls of his dreams. Portnoy sets to embrace the forbidden world of Shikse. As a result. he pleads with is doctor: ³Bless me with manhood! Make me whole! Enough being a nice Jewish boy. publicly pleasing my parents while privately pulling my putz! Enough!´ (55). of the flesh-and-blood Gentile women.´ Roth gives some brief account of stories written by his students at Iowa. His already weakened sense of his ethnic heritage fails to fend off his overriding libidinous desires. However. His fantasy. he chooses to secretly unleash his forbidden desires. At a later stage. The sexual dream ± for whatever primal reason one cares to entertain ± is for the Other. the secret life he chooses to live is guilt-ridden.

Despite Portnoy¶s covetous desire for her. His interest in gentile girls is secretive and ³bad´ ± the antithesis of the moral goodness instilled in him by his parents. SHE'LL EAT YOU UP ALIVE!"(189). he leaves her in a suicidal state in a hotel room. His contempt and sense of superiority over her does not only echo his mother¶s anti-goyim teachings. hourly thunder-claps of admonition!" (214). identityless« How can I go on and on with someone whose reason and judgement and behavior I can¶t possibly respect? Who sets off inside me daily explosions of disapproval. calling her ³The Monkey´. His job. The Monkey bitterly and scornfully screams at him: ³The Great Humanitarian! « And how you want to treat me like I¶m nothing´ (124). his sense of moral superiority over her is behind his decision of abandonment: "This brutalized woman! This coarse. . it also contradicts the dictates of his position in the Gentile World. Despite his rage at his parents: ³I will not treat any human being (outside my family) as inferior!´ (83). he is never fully liberated from their proscriptions. He even deprives his lover. to foster mutual understanding and respect´ (92). the strength of Portnoy¶s blind obedience to his mother¶s warning against blondes later on defiantly turns into a most keen interest in them. as Assistant Commissioner for Human Opportunity for New York charges him to ³encourage equality of treatment. he treats his lover as an object of his personal pleasure. tormented. lost. However. Not wanting to feel ³obedient and helpless´ (73). His indulgence is purely functional and selfish. he negates all these ideals in almost all of his personal relationships.AND THEN LEAVE YOU BLEEDING IN THE GUTTER' A BRILLIASNT ANNOCENT BABY BOY LIKE YOU. Eventually. On the other hand. bewildered. His affair with her is devoid of love on his part. his lover threatens suicide for a marriage proposal from him. self-loathing. of her original name. The first flesh-and-blood realization of Thereal McCoy is an illiterate high-fashion model from West Virginia whom he calls ³The Monkey´. to prevent discrimination. The implication of the above-mentioned episode is that despite Portnoy¶s apparent defiance of his parents¶ moral taboos through sexual excess. Mary Jane Reed.

¶ But suddenly. Kay Campbell. µI do believe. the phrase has never been of any particular use to me. (145) However. here in Iowa. beautifully stubborn in a way I couldn¶t but envy and adore´ (216). they are impressive. clearly exemplifies this point.His relationship with ³The Pumpkin´. dear. This episode of Portnoy¶s visit to the Campbells¶ house on Thanksgiving eve presents the image of the self-conscious Jew who is anxious not to offend his Gentile hosts by affirming any antiSemitic stereotypes they might harbour: Then there¶s an expression in English. She never raises her voice in an argument or ridicules her opponent. He expresses his admiration for the goyim lifestyle which the Campbells represent: Their fathers are men with white hair and deep voices who never use double negatives. that¶s what hypnotized ± the heartiness. despite her being ³hard as a gourd on matters of moral principle.¶ or so I have been told. that we sold thirty-five cakes at the Bake Sale. Mary. let¶s be four and give the goyim their due. That¶s all anybody around here knows how to say ± they feel the sunshine on their . the sturdiness.' µDon¶t be too late. For Portnoy. I am transformed into veritable geyser of good mornings. Sourball. Why should it have been? At breakfast at home I am in fact known to the other boarders as µMr. sweet-tempered. Confidence sans swagger or condescension. her pumpkinness" (217). Doctor: when they¶re impressive. Portnoy secretly finds himself sarcastic about the Campbells in their seemingly-vacuous good nature. Doctor. Come on. µGood morning. this is what the goyim who have got something have got! Authority without the temper. but Smith and Jones and Brown! These people are the Americans. according to Portnoy. in imitation of the local inhabitant. Virtue without the self-congratulation. she is the perfect representative of the Gentile world or the world of goyim: "Yes.' they sing out sweetly to their little tulips as they go bouncing off in their bouffant taffeta dresses to the junior from with boys whose names « [are] [N]ot Portnoy or Pincus. without a trace of morbidity or egoism ± a thoroughly commendable and worthy human being´ (216). and their mothers the ladies with the kindly smiles and the wonderful manners who say things like. So sound! Yes. ³Artless. in a word.¶ and µThe Gab. She is.

Truth and Joy! Our children would be atheists. keen on preserving courtesy by responding in a similarly-nice manner lest the anti-Semitic stereotypes his hosts may entertain are affirmed. trying to catch the scent. However. Our religion was Dylan Thomas¶ religion. (225-26) When The Pumpkin appears to be pregnant. There! Is that it. and two. ruptures of his inner contempt of them occasionally reveal themselves. But safe from what? Schmuck. µGoyish!¶ [«] The soap on the sink is bubbly with foam from somebody¶s hands. there it is. . is that Christianity I smell. religion? Our favorite philosopher was Bertrand Russel. ³Why would I want to do a thing like that?´ (230). and it just sets off some sort of chemical reaction. money. which he calls a ³joke´: "How could I be feeling a wound in a place where I was not even vulnerable? What did Kay and I care less about than one. Portnoy's reaction was one of fury.´ Portnoy is. his rage has confronted him with the ambivalence of his attitude. touch. . a real goyische toilet bowl. However. I think. Good morning! Good morning! Good morning! Sung to half a dozen different tunes! (201-2) He starts the above-quote with self-mockery. maybe you want to get a piece of soap to wash the soap with! I tiptoe the toilet. Whose? Mary¶s? . or should I maybe run a little water over it first.faces and. . just to be safe. as if all they have to say to each other was ³good morning. taste. I peer into the bowl: µWell. I had only been making a joke!" (231) . He then proceeds to direct his mockery at the Campbells whose seemingly care-free nature prompts them to greet each other in a near-hysterical manner. however. to which she indifferently replies. boy. he finds himself asking her to convert first. they make plans of getting married. upon his walking into their house as a weekend guest in Thanksgiving eve. . Despite all his fascination with the Pumpkins and the Gentile values they represent. Should I just take hold of it and begin to wash. he suggests that he has scarcely heard the expression ³good morning´ used back in his home town. or just the dog? Everything I see. he struggles to conceal his feelings of repel: I Sniff and I Sniff.

According to Freud. Portnoy¶s identity crisis best exemplifies Homi Bhabha¶s famous notion of ³almost the same but not quite´ (Bhabha 229) which has become insightful in understanding the position of ethnic minorities all over the world.¶ Bhabha has proposed instead that ³ identities are inevitably hybridized. because the spaces of social life are formed through a rupturing through boundaries and thorough flow of illicit border traffic´ (245).´ Bhabha points out (quoting Fanon). Even in his rage. including the Jews in America. and third space to describe this rupturing. Generally speaking. Bhabha has used a number of terms such as hybridity. His ambivalent admiration/despise attitude towards the Gentile world highlights his identity crisis. which . The µthird space of enunciations¶ is described as a certain void that occur as a result of assimilating contraries. there is much to be said for the view that Portnoy¶s battle against his heritage ends in a draw. he describes her as ³someone who knew who she was! Psychologically so intact as not to be in need of salvation or redemption by me! Not in need of conversion to my glorious faith (251). an uncanny experience occurs when an incident actually happens that confirms to µsurmounted¶ or archaic primitive beliefs. ³a zone of occult instability. in between. This concept perhaps accounts for Portnoy¶s fury at The Pilgrim¶s steadfast refusal to abandon Christianity. It is a modern paradox that the hero can not quite escape from a tradition that he no longer believes in and thus is doubly victimized" (411).¶ µself. In such interstitial space. The Pilgrim¶s robust faith and refusal to convert confronts Portnoy with his abandoned attitude of religious conformity.Portnoy¶s dilemma apparently consists in being trapped between his attempts to shed his Jewish identity represented in his mother through embracing the other. Such space is bound to create its shortcomings. Michael Mitchell argues that while some postcolonial theorists have proposed that identities are shaped through hard and fast boundaries between µus¶ and µthem. Helge Nilsen remarks: "The intensity of his struggle is evidence of the power both of the tradition and the larger culture that is opposed to many of its mores and attitudes. he can't help admiring her assured sense of identity. totalizing notions of fixed cultural identities. and his guilt-ridden conscience which reveals itself in behaviour that conforms to his Jewish background.¶ and µother. ³which occurs whenever there are profound cultural changes (248).

are challenged and denied.derive their authority from being µoriginary¶. and knowledge/disavowal that Portnoy¶s dilemma arises. he does not alter it in a way that totally effaces its basic phonetic features. displaces the histories that constitute it and sets up new structures of authority not governed by recognizable traditions (175). It is out of this inner conflict between pleasure/anxiety. Portnoy¶s quest is to disavow his Jewish identity in an attempt to embrace the American Dream with its guilt-free sexual liberation. Ma. Yet in doing this. a walking Zombie like Ronald Nimkin? Where did you get the idea that the most wonderful thing I could be in life was obedient? A little gentleman? O fall the aspirations for a creature of lusts and desires! (125) . Totally aware of his otherness in both appearance and name. Thereal McCoy. status²and the counter pressure of the diachrony of history²change. what do you say. difference (127). ³the disavowal of difference turns the colonial subject into a misfit ± a grotesque mimicry or µdoubling¶ that threatens to split the soul whole´ (75). the most explicit constituent of his ethnic identity. will you please? Raise the prices if you have to ± I¶ll pay anything! Only enough cowering in the face of the deep. Bhabha argues that ³the discourse of mimicry is constructed around an ambivalence . Homi Bhabha argues. Instead. The third space. in which he¶s ashamed to introduce himself in his flagrantly-Jewish name. 151). taken up in his fantasy about Thereal McCoy. mimicry emerges as the representation of a difference that is itself a process of disavowal´ (Bhabha 126). he is unable to entirely shed his Jewish identity. . LET¶S PUT THE ID BACK IN YID! Liberate this nice Jewish boy¶s libido. Portnoy poses a non-Jewish persona to attract gentile girls. according to Huddart. Portnoy screams in his distress: Doctor. There¶s an episode when Portnoy. my doctor. what was it you wanted to turn me into anyway. dark pleasures! Ma. parodies the familiar image of the self-hating Jew who¶s afraid of rejection and desperate to assimilate by shedding any signs of his ethnic identity. Noteworthy that when Portnoy attempts to change his name. he reinvents his name as µµAl Parsons¶ or µµAlton Peterson¶¶ (137. Such ambivalence emerges in the conflictual space between what Said describes as the tension between the synchronic panoptical vision of domination²the demand for identity. . He envisages an imaginary conversation between himself and his dream girl.

In this sense. by offering an orthodox Freudian psychoanalysis of his behaviour. However. it suggests essential split/slippage between the coveted American liberty and the engraved Jewish heritage. Portnoy is keen on displaying his Freudian virtuosity by referring to various Freudian theories. Furst holds that ³Mostly Portnoy endorses Freud as the valid framework of his self-conceptualization. Hence. Portnoy considers himself an expert on psychoanalysis. ³No! There¶s more than just adolescent resentment and oedipal rage ³(64). Freud is revealed as a ³sadist [. Portnoy¶s ambivalence is best evident in his attitude towards Freud. Portnoy identifies himself as a Freudian case study and constantly refers to the Freudian symbolism of more than one episode in the novel---mainly his mother¶s threatening him with a knife when he refused to finish his dinner and his impotence when trying to rape Naomi. More than once does Portnoy warn his analyst of orthodox Freudian analysis of his case. Throughout his monologue. the Israeli soldier. Further. Lilian R. Portnoy criticizes the totalizing tendency of psychoanalysis to reduce all events into a phallocentric narrative (46). . ³the Oedipal drama´ (301).The word "Yid" means Jew and the phrase "PUT THE ID BACK IN YID" is emblematic of Portnoy¶s frustrated attempts to assimilate into the Gentile world.] a quack and a lousy comedian´ (242). It indicates that instinctual urges need to be projected in the Jewish consciousness. Brauner contends that by presenting his narrative as a series of symbolic threats (of castration and emasculation) to his sexuality. his parents wearing ³their unconscious on their sleeves´ (108). He openly refers to Freud¶s Civilization . ³superego´ (181). He also makes occasional derogatory remarks about his dreams theory ³Who needs dreams. He almost blames Freud for his predicament accusing him of ³trivializing complex human relationships and undermining human dignity´ (Brauner 46). That he uses a volume of Freud to put himself to sleep at night (208) is also a somewhat backhanded compliment´ (59). I ask you? Who needs Freud?´ (203). . and to break free from the grip of a tradition he no longer believes in. His vocabulary is steeped in Freudian psychoanalysis: ³screen memory´ (108). . Portnoy boasts of having read Freud¶s essay on Leonardo (116) and of having bought the Collected Papers. most discernable of which is Portnoy¶s Oedipal complex. frequently condescending to his doctor and offering self-diagnosis. Portnoy deconstructs such possible interpretations and renders them reductive and redundant. .

Moshe Gresser maintains that Freud was quite essentialist about his own identity. and his being fed up of being a "Jew Jew Jew Jew Jew Jew"(85). Gresser categorizes the status of Freud not as being a µnon-Jewish Jew. his moral superiority over the gentiles.and its Discontents (1930) where he identifies the root conflict of Jewish manhood and the Western civilization at large. but he seems to reject his approach of interpreting complex human predicaments (such as identity crises) in terms of dream works and phallocentric attachments. does that explain the preoccupation with shikses?(186) Obviously. In his analysis of Freud¶s Moses and Monotheism (1939). One chapter of the novel takes its title from one of Freud¶s essays (³The Most Prevalent form of Degradation in Erotic Life´) features a detailed discussion of the theory articulated in this essay that a certain type of men can only love women for whom they have no sexual desire and can only experience sexual desire for women they are unable to love. he has never forsaken his sense of being 'chosen'. Jacqueline Rose suggests that ³the fixity of identity²for Freud. . Portnoy's ambivalent moral attitude speaks of such dual allegiance. Similarly. Portnoy seems to value the Freudian theory only in issues of eroticism and the engendered psychic conflicts. he retains the very essence of Jewishness²the status of being µchosen¶ (142-43). which is the struggle between the individual¶s instinctual urges and society¶s demand for restraint and renunciation. In the introduction to the Hebrew edition of his writings. Portnoy discusses with his analyst whether the Freudian notion applies to him: Are Alexander Portnoy¶s sensual feelings fixated to his incestuous fantasies? What do you think. Likewise. Is it true that only if the sexual object fulfils for me the condition of being degraded. She holds that such fixity is a result of . Freud says ³I do not know Hebrew and I do not observe the tradition and I do not even have national orientation. . . What then remains in me that is Jewish? The essence. sucking and sucking on that sour grape of a religion!" (85). that sensual feelings can have free play? Listen. and that despite his unequivocal ignorance of Hebrew and reluctance to share in Jewish nationalist ideals. for all Portnoy's renunciation of the "saga of his people . It is noteworthy that Portnoy¶s Jewish identity as presented in the novel bears similarity to Freud¶s Jewish identity in reality. for any of us²is something form which it is very hard to escape´ (74). even if I can¶t express that essence in words´ (25).¶ but as having µdual allegiance¶ to Jewry and humanity at large (142). Doc? . .

but also ³the rituals and customs into equivalences that their gentile readers could immediately grasp´ (213). The hybrid subject displays an identity of difference that ³can neither be µoriginal¶± by virtue of the act of repetition that constructs it ± no µidentical¶± by virtue of the difference that defines it´ (Bhabha 107). However. The same happens with Portnoy as he eventually abandons all temptations of assimilation in quest of a state of pure Jewishness in Israel only to find himself totally out of place and impotent. However. and others. to go exactly the other way: towards dogma. Homi Bhabha defines hybridity as ³the revaluation of the assumption of colonial identity through the repetition of discriminatory identity effects´ (112). besides many other obscene ones such as the synonyms of the male sexual organ: Putz. Hybridity is considered. Shikse are the most recurrent and most familiar to readers.historical trauma which triggers the compulsion to repeat. unlike Henry. The terms Goy. as well as acceptance in. the mainstream . the emphasis in Bhabha¶s hybridity is rather on disturbing and reversing the dominant authority than on the traumatic impact of the return of oppressed. Shvantz. given that language is the most essential component of one¶s culture. David Biale holds that as the drive for assimilation was paramount for Henry¶s generation of pre-WWII immigrants. a threatening force to the process of assimilation because it ³reverses the effects of the colonialist disavowal. kvetching. Many others are less familiar such as: Shiksas. ³and causes identities to batten down. according to Bhabha. and estrange the basis of its authority´ (114). Philip Roth weaves Yiddish or Hebrew terms into the narrative of the novel. In his account of what he calls the metaphoric English book. Shtong. so that other µdenied¶ knowledges enter upon the dominant discourse. This leads to a discussion of the hybrid language of Portnoy¶s narrative. writers were eager to translate not only Yiddish terms. Portnoy employs a variety of Yiddish terms and vocabulary with no glossary provided by Roth. schmuck. Throughout his monologue. Translating the Jewishness of the text into American culture meant their introduction to. Philip does not seek to provide any strategy for translating the phrases and terms into English for non-Jewish readers. Drawing on his ancestor Henry Roth. the dangers of coercive and coercing forms of faith´ (76). shlepped. This notion bears similarity to Freud¶s ³return of the oppressed´ (72).

¶ µthe vantz. or in other words. in other words. however. The proposition of a language that is both the same and different ³disrupts the singular order by which the dominant code categorises the other´ (267). Hebrew terms and phrases remain defiantly untranslatable. with Philip Roth¶s Post-War generation whose writings wilfully highlight the foreignness and difference of language. i. I am Warshaw¶s ambassador! ³(81). The disintegrity of language corresponds to the subject¶s sense of shattered identity and cultural disintegration. the insertion of Yiddish terms into Portnoy¶s verbal complaint suggests the failure of the American language to fully express the cultural conscience of ethnic minorities. In his article ³Articulating the Archaic. His term heteroglossias refers to language that crosses cultural boundaries as distinguished from the unitary language of authority or authoritative language. language. factors imitation and others of identification. Bakhtin.´ Bhabha maintains that such foreign words are not simply natural descriptions of colonial µotherness. Most of Portnoy¶s significant diatribes are pregnant with Hebrew vocabulary: ³I am something called µa weekend guest¶? I am something called µa friend from school µ? What tongue is she speaking? I am µthe bonditt. The colonial presence is disrupted when the disavowed culture is repeated. that baffles the communicable verities of culture with their refusal to translate´ (124). Further discussing the cultural implications of Freud¶s ³The uncanny.culture. Hence. The case differs. rather than repressed in the form of something different.¶ I am the insurance man¶s son. The unheimlich is related to .´ Bhabha holds that culture as an authority contains both familiar Heimlich and strange unheimlich factors. ³the archaic survival of the Ego-istical in the superego´ (216). highlights how hybrid language can become a means of critique and resistance to the dominant language of authority. The recurrent fusion of foreign terms into the narrative estranges the basic pillar of the dominant culture. in PC. in his work on the semiotics of hybridity.¶ but rather ³inscriptions of an uncertain colonial silence that mocks the social performance of language with their non-sense. a hybrid.e. The Heimlich factor is represented in the enduring cultural imperatives.

Conquer America ± may be that¶s more like it´ (235). It is the effect of an ambivalence produced within the rules of recognition of dominating discourses as they articulate the signs of cultural difference and reimplicate them within the differential relations of colonial power´ (110).the process of cultural translation and dissemination which enables culture to be ³distinctive. Portnoy¶s excessive use of the F word throughout his monologue serves as an indicator of his alleged Americanness. They also mock the inability of the American language to express the bitterness and anger of ethnic minorities.] I will discover America. In this sense. The Heimlich factors involve imitation which represents a dogmatic rejection to the ego¶s limitation. Portnoy¶s verbal obscenity represents. influential´ (216). Bhabha contends that the act of repetition through imitation and identification endangers the sense of cultural integrity. His verbal obscenity represents an act of resistance against Americanization. The excessive recurrence of the F word in Portnoy¶s . . ³Tell me. . Portnoy equates the sexual invasion of the female and his mastery of the disturbing otherness with all the superiority it represents. nor is it the simple negation or exclusion of the µcontent¶ of another culture. as a difference once perceived. it is also unheimlich for its ability to cross borders and disseminate into other cultures. Bhabha stresses. In this sense. significatory. ³For the repetition of the µsame¶ can in fact be its own displacement. as well as an attack against American Jewish culture. nor purely Yiddish. please why must you always use that word all the time?´ (270) inquires Naomi loathingly. a quest for assimilation. whereas the unHeimlich factor involves assimilation. Portnoy¶s narrative reflects a state of psycho-cultural ambivalence or uncertainty. The Yiddish terms which sound meaningless for American readers are intended to defy the authority of the dominant American culture. However. as much as I stick it up their backgrounds ± as though through [. Portnoy¶s word choice is significant in this respect. the Yiddish language represents the heimlich aspect of culture for Portnoy. can turn the authority of culture into its own non-sense precisely in its moment of enunciation´ (216). as the sporadic flow of Yiddish terms defy the norms of correct American language. paradoxically. Resistance. Being neither purely American. is ³not necessarily an opposition act of political intension. Portnoy makes an implicit association between the F word and the process of Americanization or assimilation: ³I don¶t seem to stick my click up these girls.

he chooses to disavow rather than repress his ethnic heritage. Faces like my own face!´ (253). He then finds himself´suddenly languishing with all my heart . my teachers. It represents the will to displace the dominant culture. Portnoy is tantalized by the exotic thought of being in an allJewish country: ³The faces of my neighbours. no drugs. he finds himself tied to it by virtue of the profits and rewards it offers him. He is forced to adopt the melting-pot policy and embrace its tokens. that¶s about the sum of my success in transgressing" (124).´ Roth comments in a personal interview. my uncles. The above quotation underscores Portnoy¶s ambivalent attitude and his bitterness at failing to embrace the sexual liberation of the American dream. There are components of his ethnic identity. that remain inassimilable ± namely. ³He is obscene. his mother. but I assure you. Mamma. Judith Plaskow in her study on Feminist Judaism defines the term "Israel" not as a geographical place but metaphorically as "the nature of Jewish community and the Jewish people" (72). Sure I say f±a lot. Portnoy addresses his mother as the major source of his plight: "That¶s how good I am. Nevertheless. can¶t tell a lie without beginning to sweat as though I¶m passing over the equator. which suggests a state of nostalgia for his Jewishness. In this chapter Portnoy makes a final and brief sojourn to Israel. Portnoy¶s inner sense of moral perfection makes him resentful of the American culture. Can¶t smoke. the parents of my boyhood friends.´ The final chapter ³In Exile´ witnesses the uncanny return of the mother figure embodied in the character of Naomi. hardly drink. don¶t borrow money or play cards. Portnoy¶s moral and cultural ambivalence brings into focus the whole question of the cultural uncanny double that Freud has highlighted in his essay on ³The Uncanny. ³because he wants to be saved.´ When Portnoy chooses to speak the American slang instead of Yiddish. however. The repetition of the F word hence expresses defiance rather than compliance.narrative expresses a state of what Bhabha calls intellectual and cultural uncertainty in which the authority of the dominant culture ceases to be effective. most important of which is the use of American slang. The chapter represents the culmination of all Portnoy¶s affairs and ends up in his ultimate downfall and despair. In his most flamboyant monologue. He points out ironically that the verbal obscenity is his only substantial success at breaking his ingrained cultural taboos and imperatives.

otherness is both external and internal. and the rest of Jewish history. a state of pure Jewishness untinged with guilt: . she decided not to return to the kibbutz (the Jewish community) where she had been born and raised. Biale highlights that the ethnic pride experienced by the Jewish community in the wake 1967 war has renewed the need for identifying with a people. and to some extent ideology" (219). terrain. The binary opposition that makes up the symbolic order views woman as a primary other which entails a feminization of otherness as the unconscious. unfamiliar. but instead to join a ³commune of young native-born Israelis clearing the boulders of black volcanic rock from a barren settlement in the mountains overlooking the boundary with Syria´(258). American Jews may ³sing the songs of Zion in a strange land. In this sense the state of Israel represents for Portnoy. yea. The Eastern European world was replaced with the thriving nation of Israel. passionate. etc. and her opinions are impeccable. free. and secure. according to this theory. wholesome Jewishness. According to Galchinsky. as well as for many American Jews the unheimlich. and a native language. The self/other interplay is manifest in the discrimination between Portnoy and Naomi as two distinct types of Jews. He contends that American Jews are emotionally and intellectually distanced from Israel as the Old World. for Portnoy. In this context. vigorous. Naomi is a twenty-one-year old Zionist whose parents had come to Palestine before the outbreak of World War Two. irrational.for home´ (226) so much that he starts singing:´By the waters of Babylon. With her industrious and devout Jewishness. The Old world for many of them is the American Jewish homeland. As a result. She represents. climate. a home. but they do so with the consciousness that the land in which they sing is not so strange and the land of which they sing is not so familiar´ (200). highly independent. a kind of precarious place in and out of the symbolic order of language. Homi Bhabha shares with Lacan the notion that identity is both constituted as well as negated by the gaze of the other. primitive. After completing her army service. Conversely. "American Jewry has found itself in limbo between a homogenized mythical reconstruction of a Yiddish folkloristic world that has no manifestation in contemporary life and a Zionist socialist homeland that elicits allegiance at some level but also remains alien in language. This entails. She is strong. we wept when we remembered Zion!´ (226). there we sat down. Naomi confronts Portnoy with Jewish Otherness. America is the heimisch ²familiar.

Heroine! Up to the mountain. take me with you. Her despise for Portnoy makes him even more attached to her. like Portnoy. and good and good and good ± right? Live only according to principle! Without compromise!" (269). unmanned and corrupted by life in the gentile world¶' (265). µNaomi. . This ironic implication is that . if that¶s what it takes to be good. His impotence suggests the failure of his attempt to fit into the Jewish culture which he outgrew. I¶ll clear boulders till I drop. heedless of human values. the physical emasculation corresponds to his sense of religious emasculation (Buchen 403). She firmly rejects his whining and pretensions. and your job is to make such a system appear legitimate and moral by acting as though justice. inherently cruel and inhumane. as though human rights and human dignity could actually exist in that society ± when obviously no such thing is possible."Wow. heedless of human values´ (262). really-an honour to have met you. Because why not be good. is what enabled the Nazi genocide to take place: ³Jews just like myself who had gone by the millions to the gas chambers without even raising a hand against their persecutors´ (241). Portnoy is emasculated because he is overwhelmed by all the accusations of imperfection that Naomi¶s model has confronted him with. and claims that the passivity and paranoia of Diasporic Jews. Naomi expresses a sense of superiority for being Israeli-born. self-deprecating. She believes that American Jews are deprived of dignified life because the American System in her view is ³inherently cruel and inhumane. Naomi reveals a deep-seated contempt for the Diasporic culture of which Portnoy is representative: ³those centuries and centuries of homelessness had produced just such disagreeable men as myself ± frightened. I want to marry you¶ ´ (262) According to this viewpoint. To her telling him how little she thinks of him. I love you. She considers Portnoy as corrupt as the American System itself. . . . and she tells him that his self-degradation is the more despicable because he is a man of high intelligence and social prestige. defensive. are you guiltless! Terrific. Look. he reacts by confessing his love for her and his will to marry her: You have a system inherently exploitive and unjust. Hence. as Portnoy puts it.

This is partly due to his frail knowledge of his heritage. and stick your suffering heritage up your suffering [«]± I happen also to be a human being! (76) He directs his diatribe against the hypocrisy of the Rabbis represented in the figure of Rabbi Warshaw. Portnoy seems to carry his Oedipus complex like a tattoo. who has for centuries been alienated from the dominant culture. even temperament´ (259). He believes that Warshaw is a pompous fraud who believes himself to be ³God¶s special assistant´ (74). ³And it never occurs . In this episode . an argument takes place between him and his sister Hannah where she accuses him of being ignorant of the history of his people. why don¶t you. ³the resemblance between this girl and the picture of my mother in her high school year book is something I do not even see´ (259). Size. He mimics his way of speaking that stresses each syllable he utters: ³I-a wan-tt to-a wel-come-a you-ew tooo thee sy-no-gawg-a´ (74). has grown to be very well assimilated into the secular humanitarian society. She is a physical replica of the mother in terms of ³colouring. the saga of the suffering Jews. so much that he can no longer fit himself into the ghetto culture. Do me a favor my people. He is even sarcastic about the way he utters words: ³This is a man who « got the idea that the basic unit of meaning in the English language is the syllable. Portnoy recalls with a mixture of love and resentment a telephone conversation he had with her after returning from his European vacation: ³Well.´ that clarifies Portnoy¶s scepticism and lack of faith in Judaism. ³The Jewish Blues. There is an episode in the third chapter. sucking and sucking on that sour grape of a religion! Jew Jew Jew Jew Jew Jew! I is coming out of my ears already. and partly to his attraction to the American dream with its appealing rewards of material prosperity. Mother Portnoy never ceased to smother and haunt her son with her warm affection. He points out to his doctor that such identification is unconsciously made. His catastrophic encounter with Naomi entails obvious Oedipal implications as he identifies her with the images of his mother. not even the word God´ (73). how¶s my lover?´ she asks as his father listens on an extension. and he responds by declaring his atheism: Weep for your own pathetic selves. Portnoy lacks any virtual interest in the history or ethnic heritage of ³the Saga´ of his people (63).Obviously.the Jew. So no word he pronounces has less than three of them.

who is he. Sophie used to pride herself in being ³the only one who gives her a whole can of tuna for lunch´ (13).to her. and in double-cleaning the dish in which the cleaning lady has eaten her lunch without hurting ³the colored woman¶s feelings´ (13). my mother coloring. Said describes the process of encapsulation by which the mind attaches familiar images or values that one might abhor to things completely novel. and her prejudice against the Diasporic Jews. novelty. her criticism of Portnoy as a representative of the ³corrupt´ American system (226) are all reminiscent of personality traits found in Sophie Portnoy. Thus. her sense of moral superiority for being Israeli-born. even temperament. and what is kibbutz or Jewish. Portnoy¶s mother has always distinguished between what is goyische (gentile). . The unconscious association between Noami and Sophie Portnoy emerges out of what Freud calls the ³compulsion to repeat´ (238) which produces feelings of uncanny strangeness. of course. Naomi's flagrant superiority echoes that of his mother closely engraved in his unconscious: ³the outrage. size. Must have perfection in her men´ (259). Naomi invokes in Portnoy uncanny feelings as a threatening substitute for his mother ³«in physical type she is. Portnoy¶s confrontation with the original Jewishness of Naomi has struck in him fear of. according to Freud. the shmegeggy she lives with?´(63). a professional critic of me. Such episode and similar others are interwoven with details of his adult affairs. he unconsciously establishes a link between her and his Jewish mother. He watches her pull up her stockings ³in their tight. the disgust inspired in my parents by the gentiles. while we were actually their moral superiors´ (56). it turned out ± a real fault-finder. There is a passage in Said¶s Orientalism that articulates Freud¶s notion of the uncanny in relation to questions of power and desire. These feelings occur when. Naomi¶s haughty pride in her Zionism.´ says Portnoy ³if I¶m her lover. like he used to feel with the other non-Jewish women he has encountered. emerges under certain conditions. was beginning to make some sense: the goyim pretended to be something special. agonizingly delicious journey up her legs´ (49). as well as delights in. in order to be able to feel superior to her. Hence. Portnoy remembers his mother¶s condescending attitude to her Gentile black maid. slow. The motive behind this process is an attempt to control what is perceived as ³a threat to some established view of things´ (Said 212). something ³old and long familiar´ (225) which was repressed. the inner workings of his mind has accommodated Naomi¶s image as repetitious.

This ³compulsion to repeat´ as Freud refers to it. The torturing feelings of guilt Portnoy experiences are similar to the feelings of anxiety that the sleeper experiences. my friend!´ (266) Before starting to rape Naomi. The notion partly applies to Portnoy's identity crisis. this makes her. We may compare them with individuals of mixed race who taken all round resemble white men but who betray their coloured descent by some striking feature or other and on that account are excluded from society and enjoy non of the privileges" (qtd in Bhabha 85). like Portnoy. To further draw on this Freudian argument. according to my unconscious one-track mind. In as much as nightmares represent ³the failure of the dream to perform its function of protecting sleep´ (507). µYou¶re going to get a cold out there in that bathing suit'. Portnoy imagines a mock-trial in which he¶s being punished for all his transgressions.¶ my mother would warn me from her bedroom windows. Portnoy¶s nightmarish existence consists in the failure of the American Dream to fulfil its promises of security and liberty. His admiration of her originality and his desire for her are overruled by a surge of contempt for the longestablished image of his Jewish mother. . It is a compulsion inherent to the drive impulses and is ³powerful enough to overrule the pleasure principle´ (238). This Freudian linkage between the fantasy and the mimetic subject best applies to colonial subjects on the interstices of two different cultures. Portnoy hears his mother¶s warnings echoing in his ear: ³you¶re going to give yourself a tsura yet with those things. an association is possible between the life of such mimetic subject (Portnoy) and the nightmare as a pattern. and in which he is ³SENTENCED TO A TERRIBLE CASE OF IMPOTENCE´ (272).´ (267). In a fantasy. This concept justifies the episode of Portnoy¶s impotence in Israel with Naomi. my mother? Just because she and the lady of my past are off-spring of the same pale polish strain of Jews? This then is the culmination of the Oedipal drama. is responsible for producing the uncanny strangeness. It¶s his fear of ³this mother-substitute!´ that emasculates him: Because she wore red hair and freckles. Doctor? More farce. is addressed by Freud in his account on the nature of fantasy. which he believes to be located inappropriately between the unconscious and the preconscious: " Their mixed and split origin is what decides their fate. The subject of mimicry.

As Alexander Portnoy makes his final escape from the so-called ³promised land´ of America (Cullen 184) into the so-called ³wonder land´ of Israel (Roth 256). The reality of segregation. Towards the end of his 1958 book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery story. despite all the relentless efforts. upward mobility. sexual liberation. Portnoy¶s abortive encounter with Bubbles Girardi leaves him frustrated and longing to experience the details of a wholesome affair with her. Freud further indicates that once the censorship or the ³night-watchman´ (207) has proved too weak to drive off the anxiety of the nightmare. like slavery. who have more satisfying experiences with Bubbles: ³What is it like! Before I go out of my head. I have to know what it¶s like!´(181). richer. Martin Luther King Jr. made this point: Ever since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. America has manifested a Schizophrenic personality on the question of race. The Dream promised equality. However. (190) In the third chapter that deals with his adolescent encounters with Gentile girls. has always had to confront the ideals of democracy and Christianity. is the nightmare-like existence in which immigrants of ethnic minorities are trapped. economic welfare.The American Dream is an ideal that promised a ³better. and ³the freedom to commit as well as freedom from commitment´ (Cullen 4-10). segregation and discrimination are strange paradoxes in a nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal. Portnoy appeals to his gentile friends. It makes a statement about exclusion of ethnic minorities from living out the imagined American Dream. and happier life for fellow citizens of every rank´ (Cullen 4). is assumed to be the psychological equivalent of the American Dream. then the failure of the dream to secure protection for the sleeper. Indeed. the ideal failed to address the serious challenges of ethnic identities and to render the dream of equality possible. She has been torn between selves ± a self in which she has proudly professed democracy and a self in which she has sadly practiced the antithesis of democracy. Portnoy makes a statement that . educational attainment. the ethnic minorities or Jews to be the equivalent of the sleeper. If the dream. The cry has a strangely-moving quality which is reminiscent of Toni Morrison¶s Beloved's recurrent cry ³I want to Join´ (150). in the Freudian Sense. it tends to awaken the sleeper.

the oddly ominous banalities. which sketches Portnoy¶s physical. I have a life without latent content. everything happens. Portnoy begins to gradually lose his force of expression. psychological. may be other patients dream-with me. his nostalgia for restoring his childhood pure Jewishness. and with laughter. His flamboyant monologue towards the end of the novel testifies to the argument of this thesis. and verbal impotence marks the climax of Portnoy's dilemma. this is my daily bread! The coincidences of dreams. and an anguish at his alienation: A nice little Jewish boy? Please. The dream thing happens! (257) Having spent hours furiously giving vent to his emotions. He imagines himself tearing it off while the police officers approach him: . that¶s why I hardly have them ± because I have this life instead. so alone! Nothing but self! Locked up in me! (248) The final episode of the novel. It mocks the Orthodox notion that unconscious dreams alone can afford the key to psychological malaise. I am the nicest little Jewish boy who ever lived! « And? What¶s so wrong? Hard work in an idealistic profession. With me it all happens in broad day light! The disproportionate and the melodramatic. the accidents and humiliations. games played without fanaticism or violence. games played among like-minded people. Doctor. he goes beyond language of relevant and forcible expression so that he begins to meditate about a tag on a new mattresses he has bought that forbids its own removal. the bizarrely appropriate strokes of luck or misfortune that other people experience with their eyes shut. the symbols. eleven years of age? How have I come to be such an enemy and flayer of myself? And so alone! Oh. The monologue of Portnoy suggests that the dream work and its components can be translated into an actual experience that the person lives out while awake: Dreams? If only they had been! But I don¶t need dreams.expresses disenchantment with the American dream. and family forgiveness and love. the terrifyingly laughable situations. ten. I get with mine open! « Doctor. What was so wrong with believing in all that? What happened to the good sense I had at nine.

His power of expression then begins to recede more rapidly until.God forbid I should tear the tag from my mattress that says. his being trapped between the police officers on the one hand. he screams. A pure howl. is subtly emblematic of his complaint. Portnoy. Roth makes a joke of Portnoy's prolonged and exhaustive self-examination. the seemingly-harmless act of tearing the tag off the mattress resembles the act of removing the stamp of his heritage of sin and retribution off his libido which seeks to be unleashed.' (274) The comic symbolism is evident in the mattress episode. The implication is that the end of Portnoy's story is the beginning of the real work of psychoanalysis that discounts his self-analysis and accusations. suggests that his . Roth seals the novel with a note of hope. for Portnoy¶s gradual lapse into the realm of the unconscious. the ridiculous disproportion of the guilt! May I? Will that shake them up too much out in the waiting room? Because that¶s may be what I need most of all. His wilful defiance against the approaching police by being bent on tearing off the tag refers to his upright defiance against institutional ethnic authorities such as the Rabbis of the synagogue and the moral imperatives of his ghetto culture. These are preceded by a Rothian comment ³PUNCH LINE´ (274). Portnoy¶s four-lined Shriek suggests the beginning of Portnoy¶s lapse into an unconscious state. Most significantly. in the last moment oscillating between trusting the voice that has shaped their understanding of the novel. to howl. after having verbalized every memory and anxiety that has driven him. the chair? It makes me want to scream. and his defiantly transgressive acts on the other. Yes?´ (274). and disbelieving all that has come before. µDo Not remove Under Penalty of Law¶ ± what would they give me for that. finally. (Matuz 396). ³tormented beyond language. Through the analyst punch line. without anymore words between me and it! µThis is the police speaking. You better come on out and pay your debt to society. after hours of continuous diatribes of anguish. You¶re surrounded. These final two lines of the novel leaves the readers' minds. The novel ironically ends with the words that his analyst is supposed to start with: ³So « No vee may perhaps to begin.

. His ultimate message is that there's more to the American Dream than to willingly "fall into Caliban's dream and envision all the land peopled with little Portnoys" (Halio 638-9) thus making a statement about the fragile ambivalent position of American Jewish identity and the nightmarish flipside of the American Dream. (120-21) By virtue of overwhelming tirades and rebellious thrusts of a Jew on his psycho-therapist's couch. holds that: Portnoy's Complaint presents the schlemiel condition as unbearable.lived out nightmarish reality might be restored to its unconscious origin so that it can be mastered and subjected to psychoanalytical examination and remedy. The Jewish joke was conceived as an instrument for turning pain into laughter. Portnoy's Complaint reverses the process to expose the full measure of pain lurking beneath the laughter. As it turns out. and for all its dialecthumor the punch line seriously implies that the purgation of the narrative ought to be the starting point in the cure. Roth dons the mask of the self-hating Jew who is living in "the middle of a Jewish joke" (PC 37) only to reveal the deeper and darker reality of modern American Jewry. suggesting that the technique of adjustment may be worse than the situation it was intended to alleviate. PC is not anti-Semitic or an expression of the traditional Jewish self-hatred.

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snack nudjh = nag oy = ³oh!´±an expression. woe (oy vey!). ³There!´ (said when you hit someone) nosh = nibble. guts. be aggravated beyond bearing putz = male organ. milchedig =dairy products. not Yiddish) boychick = boy. fool (see also shlong. too. showoffs genug = enough gonif = thief goy = gentile (noun) goyim = gentiles (plural) goyische = gentile (adjective) hock = strike. yak. awe. junk food. pleasure. shmuck. . kishkas = intestines. swell with pride kvetch = complain meshugge. teasing. shvantz). trash flaishik. depending upon circumstance. pride in a child¶s achievement noch = yet. kid chazerai = (from chazer= pig). clever. more. belly kugel = sweet noodle casserole kurveh = prostitute kvell = gush.GLOSSARY of YIDDISH for PORTNOY¶S COMPLAINT Compiled by Andrew Gordon bonditt = bandit. meshuggeneh = crazy. yammer. flayshedig = meat. nuts milchik. with comments. mischievous fellow Boruch atoh Adonai = ³Blessed art Thou. horror or astonishment (oy gevalt!) oysgemitchet = exhausted punim = face. pisser. collapse. poultry (as opposed to milchik. meat and milk must be kept separate in kosher cooking) gantze k¶nockers= big shots. interfering. fear. nag kibbitz = watching. relief. visage pisher = nothing. milchedig = see flaishik (above) nachas = joy. little squirt pisk = mouth plotz = burst. o Lord our G-d´ (beginning of prayer or blessing±this is Hebrew. trafe (non-kosher) dreck = crap. of pain. making wisecracks. pleasure.

shvantz) shmatta = rag. 1968) and The Joys of Yinglish (NY: McGraw-Hill. . scandalous mess shtup = push. haul. little boy. ³sitting shiva´(one sits on a stool) shkotzim = gentile men (plural of shaygets) shlemiel = fool. mean person. compassion ruggeleh = rolled pastry made with nuts (also figures in American Pastoral) schmaltz = chicken fat. The Joys of Yiddish (NY: McGraw-Hill. shove. big shot shtunk = fool. a dress shmutz = dirt shmutzig = dirty shnoz = nose shtarke = tough guy. maudlin sentimentality schmegeggy = drip. schmuck. shlong. piece of cloth. plaything trafe = (or trayf) food that is not kosher tsura = (plural tsuris) trouble. dope. stinker. male organ. Can mean ³fat. Every Goy¶s Guide to Common Jewish Expressions (NY: Ballantine. 1989). and to Arthur Naiman. shlong. pull. mercy. incompetent person schmendrick = weakling.-1- rachmones = pity. plump. suffering tuchis = ass vantz = louse zaftig = buxom.´ With thanks to Leo Rosten. jerk schmuck = also shmuck. steam bath tateleh = little boy tsatskeleh = toy. well-rounded figure on a woman. woe. fool (see also putz. shvantz) shande = shame shaygets = young Gentile man shicker = a drunk shikse = (or shiksa) gentile woman shiva = seven days of mourning after Jewish funeral. slang for fornicate shvantz = male organ (see also putz. a person who is a drag or jerk shlong = male organ (see also putz. 1981). loser shlep = drag. schmuck) shvartze = black person shvitz = sweat shvitz bath = Turkish bath. jerk.