Abstract

Three mysteries surround Henry Roth (1906–95), the Rip Van Winkle of American authors: 1) Why was Call It Sleep ignored in 1934 but acclaimed in 1964? 2) Why did Roth renounce literary life after Call It Sleep? 3) What compelled Roth, in his eighties and dying, to summon the fortitude to create the tetralogy Mercy of a Rude Stream? The Depression was an inauspicious time for an immigrant novice's novel about life among the lowly, whereas it found a receptive public in 1964, when ethnicity was fashionable and American Jews were eager to affirm a tradition. Roth's 60-year writer's block can be explained by the false lure of Marxism as well as Roth's alienation from his Jewish roots. The most cogent explanation is that only approaching death could this autobiographical author confront his adolescent incest. His final torrent of creativity was self-abasement and cathartic redemption.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 21-32
Launched on MUSE
2009-02-13
Open Access
No
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