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Authority in Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” In the case of Alexander Portnoy he was doomed to repeat his mistakes and continue to feel the guilt lain upon him at every turn by his parents, his lovers and himself. Their overpowering nature kept him a perpetual child and his efforts to seize the opportunity to be the authority in each relationship left him more frustrated and eager to control the downward spiral he called life.

At the base of his family was Judaism. Their identity was firmly rooted in their religion. To Alex all he saw when he looked in the mirror or at other kids, at the furniture in people’s homes, the way they spoke, was Jewish and not Jewish. His facial features and his name became sources of resentment and things he desperately wanted to change. Thoughts of being Alton C. Peterson and having a smaller nose consumed him. The pressure his parents put on him to go to temple and define himself as a Jew! Jew! Jew! Jew!, “sucking and sucking on the sour grape of a religion,” made him crazy. Frustrated with dwelling on the past and the anxiety of being a perfect Jew, Alex insisted, “I also happen to be a human being!”

Despite the fact he wanted to escape from the prison of guilt he felt Jews have locked themselves into, he was continually confused by all things goyish. He was raised a Jew and that’s all he knows, but the power of the religion and his inability to reconcile that power made it one of the most dominating forces in his life, next to his Jewish mother.

Childhood, for Alexander Portnoy, was a tumultuous time. He was intelligent beyond his years, which not only provided pride for his family, but also the opportunity for his mother to brag about him. The doting he received from…

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…to not have to deal with the real world was convincing himself his domineering mother was to blame for all his frustrations and failed relationships. He was happy with the way he lived, he “lived big!” despite his mother steering the way. He was able to overlook her, he just didn’t want to.

Works Cited

Frank, Thomas, H. “The Interpretation of Limits: Doctors and Novelists in the Fiction of Philip Roth”. The Journal of Popular Culture,vol 28. 1995.

Hopkins, Holly, R., Klein, Helen, A., O’Bryant, Kathleen. “Recalled Parental Authority Style and Self Perception in College Men and Women.” The Journal of Genetic Psychology, vol.157. 1996

Laupa, Marta. “Children’s Reasoning About Three Authority Attributes: Adult Status, Knowledge, and Social Position.” Developmental Psychology, vol. 27. 1991.

Roth, Philip. Portnoy’s Complaint, Vintage Books, 1967.

truthhod Quest for Truth in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

The Quest for Truth in Heart of Darkness

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is set in Africa’s Congo region, and his descriptions of that place are stark yet full of the wonder of discovery as well as the shock that comes from uncovering ugly truths. Conrad was purposefully vague in his setting for Heart of Darkness; he never actually named the destination to which Marlow journeyed. This may be because Heart of Darkness was more an inner journey than a journey between places. Conrad juxtaposed his protagonist’s inward quest with an outward journey through the wilderness of “dark” Africa. The novel’s climax was not comprised of actions, but of moral discoveries and intellectual awakenings.

A stylistic device utilized by Conrad throughout the novel is the highlighting of themes by setting certain symbolic elements in opposition to contrasting symbolic elements. In order to accomplish this, he relied heavily on metaphors. Metaphors only gain meaning, as they are associated in the reader’s mind with images or ideas that are beyond the intrinsic meanings of the words themselves (Searl 1979). In reference to the title Heart of Darkness, Ian Watt said ” . . . Both of Conrad’s nouns are densely charged with physical and moral suggestions; freed from the restrictions of the article, they combine to generate a sense of puzzlement which prepares us for something beyond our usual expectations: if the words do not name what we know, they must be asking us to know what has, as yet, no name” (Watt 1963). Resonating throughout Heart of Darkness was the contrast between elements, which may be represented as being light, and elements, which may be characterized as being dark. Light carries with it the metaphorical meanings …

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Cox, C. B. Conrad: Heart of Darkness, Nostromo, and Under Western Eyes. London: Macmillan Education Ltd., 1987.

Guetti, James. ‘Heart of Darkness and the Failure of the Imagination’, Sewanee Review LXXIII, No. 3 (Summer 1965), pp. 488-502. Ed. C. B. Cox.

Ruthven, K. K. ‘The Savage God: Conrad and Lawrence,’ Critical Quarterly, x, nos 1

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