The generation of ’47 strikes back

It is established that in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral one of the central themes is the way the broad events and currents of history buffet individual life. At one point he says of his protagonist:

“I began to contemplate the very thing that must have baffled the Swede till the moment he died: how had he become history’s plaything?…History…improbably, with all its predictable unforeseenness, broke helter-skelter into [his] orderly household…and left the place in shambles. People think of history in the long term, but history, in fact, is a very sudden thing.”

In this context, it is interesting to see in what an apocalyptic light a presumably good Jewish liberal casts the ’60’s. Perhaps that is because virtually the whole of the Jewish community identified with the centrist upper-class liberalism that was smashed perhaps irreperably by the ideological polarization of that era. Roth overtly compares his protagonist to JFK, and in the same paragraph as the passage quoted above places the events of the decade in suggestive contrast to the Revolutionary War, as if to portray them as the two bookends of the period of American growth. Whether this indicates a belief in the onset of the decline of America or merely of the Jewish community through a perceived identification with now out-of-favor political attitudes is not entirely clear. Or maybe Roth is either sufficiently culturally assimilated to America or solipsistically self-absorbed enough to believe the fate of the two to be identical.

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