‘Eli, The Fanatic’ by Philip Roth

Roth, Philip 1959

Eli, The Fanatic by Philip Roth, 1959

The magic trick:

Tracking Eli’s different loyalties throughout the story

Poor Eli Peck is a man pulled in many different directions. The church. The community. His heritage. His neighbors. His career. His wife. His child. Himself. Of course, he is a stand-in for a larger Jewish community. But that’s obvious and kind of boring. I’d rather focus on the individual and extrapolate it out however I want.

Roth does an excellent job of setting up a fairly simple problem and allowing it to expand and complicate as it torments Eli. His actions betray loyalties to all of the above influences before finally, and quite dramatically, settling on one allegiance. And that’s quite a trick on Roth’s part.

The selection:

Miriam feigned sleep, he could tell by the breathing.

“I’m telling the kid the truth, aren’t I, Miriam? A sling chair, three months to go on a New Yorker subscription, and An Introduction to Psychoanalysis. Isn’t that right?”

“Eli, must you be aggressive?”

“That’s all you worry about, is your insides. You stand in front of the mirror all day and look at yourself being pregnant.”

“Pregnant mothers have a relationship with the fetus that fathers can’t understand.”


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