Of all the novels in Saul Bellow's oeuvre, Henderson the Rain King (1959) seems to be the only one that is unrelated to Jewish life. Its plot revolves around an Anglo-Saxon millionaire, Eugene Henderson, who travels to Africa in search of answers to his existential crisis. This article shows that the novel is actually replete with Jewish themes and it positions the book alongside other postwar texts that disguised Jewish modes of expression within seemingly universal narratives. Henderson is framed in Yiddish and biblical rhetoric and reflects the ideas that Bellow developed in response to the Holocaust. It is also full of contradictions and ambiguities characteristic of this postwar genre; for instance, Henderson is exaggeratedly goyish at the same time he features many quintessential Jewish traits. By bringing attention to these aspects of the novel, this reading engages with critical and theoretical debates around how to demarcate the parameters that define Jewish American literature. It encourages the reader to reconsider those postwar texts that have been misinterpreted as diverging from Jewishness. And it directs them beyond the obvious hallmarks of Jewishness toward subtler cues that account for the ambivalences of postwar Jewish American identification.


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pp. 102-128
Launched on MUSE
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