Goodbye Columbus Cultural Identity

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Goodbye, Columbus is a novella which was written by the American author Philip Roth and was published in 1959. It tells the story of Neil Klugman, a young, Jewish, lower-middle-class man, who meets and falls in love with Brenda Patimkin, a young, Jewish, upper-middle-class woman (France 83). The social differences between them are an essential theme in the novella which, as a result, examines the development of identity, in particular, Neil’s “struggle to develop and preserve an identity of his own amid different environments and conflicting impulses within himself” (Nilsen 97). An analysis of Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus illustrates the construction of cultural identity. In fact, Stuart Hall defines cultural identity in two ways (223).…show more content…
Cultural Identity and Affiliation One model of the construction of cultural identity assumes that it is formed as a result of affiliation (Hall 223). In fact, Stuart Hall states that this form of cultural identity is based on a shared history and ancestry which reflect mutual experiences (ibid.). Thus, it refers to a person’s roots and “one, shared culture” which forms cultural identity (ibid.). At the beginning of the novella, Neil’s cultural identity is influenced by his roots and is characterised by affiliation. In fact, Neil was born in Newark into a lower-middle-class family. Since his parents moved to Arizona to have their asthma treated, Neil has been living with his Aunt Gladys and Uncle Max who lead a modest lower-middle-class life. I thought of my Aunt Gladys and Uncle Max sharing a Mounds bar in the cindery darkness of their alley, on beach chairs, each cool breeze sweet to them as the promise of afterlife. . . . For a while I remained in the hall, bitten with the urge to slide quietly out of the house, into my car, and back to Newark, where I might even sit in the alley and break candy with my own. (Roth 15,…show more content…
In addition, the family’s lower-middle-class roots are stressed when Neil wants to use the suburban phone book to call Brenda. In fact, Aunt Gladys uses it to balance “the dresser where the leg came off” (Roth 12). She neither uses nor needs it which emphasises the division between people with a lower-middle-class status and people with an upper-middle-class status. Moreover, Aunt Gladys associates social mobility with the loss of cultural identity as she states that “Jewish people [do not] live in Short Hills” (Roth 49). Still, Neil takes issue with her about that statement and stresses that the Patimkins “[are] real Jews” albeit living in Short Hills (ibid.). Thus, it is obvious that Neil values his roots but he believes that his association with the Patimkins would offer him a different and, possibly, a better way of
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