Abstract

Abstract:

This article is an attempt to understand Isaac Bashevis Singer's blatant preoccupation in his stories with offensive and outrageous characters and actions that can simply be defined as vulgar. It is best exemplified in stories that depict a recurring theme in his fiction: the expulsion of the female outcast from and by her patriarchal community. Even though the vulgar characteristics of these female outcasts were construed by several Yiddish-speaking intellectuals as an assault both on Jewish women and on Yiddish language and culture, Singer's stories utilize their vulgar style and crude content as a direct attack on the Jewish Maskilim and their twentieth-century successors. This essay discusses his short story "Di makhsheyfeh" ("The Witch") from a feminist perspective, specifically in accordance with Julia Kristeva's theorization of the abject, in order to address Bella Zilberstein (the witch) as an allegorical affirmation of the same vulgar qualities that were projected upon Yiddish since the formation of the Haskalah movement in the eighteenth century. In identifying Yiddish as an abject source of shame on behalf of modernized Jews, Singer deliberately creates an "ugly" story about an "ugly" character. "Di makhsheyfeh" and its outright vulgarity will therefore be discussed both as a critique of the self-destructing delusion of modern Jews in their assimilatory ambitions, and as a celebration of Yiddish folklore characteristics, a passionate embrace of its irrational and "disgraceful" virtues.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3311
Print ISSN
0272-9601
Pages
pp. 86-101
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-30
Open Access
No
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