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Belonging Too Well

Portraits of Identity in Cynthia Ozick's Fiction

Miriam Sivan

Publication Year: 2009

Shows how Ozick's characters attempt to mediate a complex Jewish identity, one that bridges the differences between traditional Judaism and secular American culture. 'Shows how Ozick’s characters attempt to mediate a complex Jewish identity, one that bridges the differences between traditional Judaism and secular American culture. In Belonging Too Well, Miriam Sivan draws on contemporary literary theory as well as traditional Jewish texts and culture to explore the question of identity in Cynthia Ozick’s fiction. Many critics have pointed to a split in Ozick’s work between Judaic and secular culture and values. Sivan suggests, however, that Ozick never settles for a simple either/or dichotomy between traditional Judaism and secular American culture, but that her protagonists instead fashion new means of living genuinely Jewish lives within the American Diaspora. Often they struggle not with not belonging to either the Old or the New Worlds, but of belonging too well to both. Part of a recent trend toward analyzing Jewish American literature in the context of a deep encounter with and understanding of Judaism and traditional Jewish texts, Sivan’s study enables readers of Ozick’s fiction to penetrate the complex webs she creates among cultures, time periods, and characters, some quite sober, others fantastic, all unusual. Miriam Sivan teaches in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Haifa in Israel.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-

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Introduction

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pp. 1-10

Yosef Haim Yerushalmi has written that, for the people of Israel, “memory fl owed, above all, through two channels: ritual and recital.”1 For many Jews in the United States, and the writers among them, consciousness of these rituals has become at best a source of nostalgia, at worst an irrelevant burden. Recitation of the nation’s stories, an engagement with biblical narrative, with scholarly commentary and aggadic fabulation, is not possible for most. ...

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1. Mishkan: The Ungraven Image

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pp. 11-36

In the Second Commandment of the ten received by Moses, God warns Israel: do not make or worship graven images resembling anything in heaven or the natural world. This prohibition is a familiar one. It is the reason synagogues are devoid of stained glass scenes of Adam and Eve. It is why there are no...

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2. Golem: The Seeker and the Sought

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pp. 37-73

When Ruth Puttermesser in “Puttermesser and Xanthippe”1 fashions a golem in the middle of the night, she is giving tangible form, one is even inclined to say giving birth, to a number of her longings. Though she is the only Cynthia Ozick character to fashion a literal golem, like many of Ozick’s protagonists, Puttermesser’s golem is a foil for her narcissistic and Golem making has been interpreted as a celebration of the divine. ...

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3. Shekhinah: The Whole and Holy Mother

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pp. 75-108

Nearly all of Cynthia Ozick’s female protagonists are unmarried, whether or not they are mothers. The narrative voice in many of her stories and novels expresses a consistent bias against ‘domesticated’ females; women whose minds appear to be subservient to the life of the body and whose bodies clearly belong, in the proprietary matrimonial sense, to men. The priorities set by Ozick’s women work against the disturbing association of ...

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4. Etz HaSadeh: Reconciliation with Nature

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pp. 109-137

Trees are center stage in a number of Cynthia Ozick’s fictions.1 In “The Pagan Rabbi” the protagonist, Isaac Kornfeld, falls in love with an oak tree and the dryad who lives within her. Kornfeld describes his tree as “slender” (17). He calls her “Loveliness” (23). In Trust, trees are perceived by both mother and daughter as portentous vehicles of illumination. The daughter sees the tree accompanying her Bildung as possessing a “radiance” (424) and ...

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5. Shoah: Words in Spite of Themselves

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pp. 139-168

More than in any of the Holocaust hauntings in Cynthia Ozick’s fiction, it is the scene of baby Magda’s murder and her mother Rosa’s paralysis that most wrenchingly causes the reader to suffer the horrors of the Shoah.1 Norma Rosen claims that fictional renderings of such events allow readers to “enter . . . into a state of being that for whatever reasons makes porous those membranes through which empathy passes, or deep memory with its ...

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Afterword

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pp. 169-171

Cynthia Ozick’s fiction is often vilified as being too intellectual, too Jewish, and too hospitable to radical female characters. Simultaneously, her work is highly praised for its serious engagement with ideas, for attending to the ontological manifestations and implications of Judaism, and for celebrating women’s power. The often heated and contradictory reactions to Ozick’s work seem appropriate for a writer whose writing is indeed very complex, ...

Notes

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pp. 173-213

Bibliography

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pp. 215-227

Index

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pp. 229-235


E-ISBN-13: 9781438425184
E-ISBN-10: 143842518X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438425054
Print-ISBN-10: 1438425058

Page Count: 246
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: SUNY series in Modern Jewish Literature and Culture
Series Editor Byline: Sarah Blacher Cohen