Study Guide

I Married a Communist

by Philip Roth

I Married a Communist Summary

Summary (Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Running into Murray Ringold, a ninety-year-old former high school teacher who first taught Nathan Zuckerman the importance of critical thinking and whose own vigorous style of classroom presentation was legendary, Zuckerman invites Ringold to visit at his secluded Connecticut home. Over the course of six nights, Murray narrates the story of his brother, Ira, to whom he had once introduced Nathan and who, as the famous radio personality “Iron Rinn,” had become Nathan’s early hero and mentor. Now long dead, Ira had led a colorful if tortured life from childhood on, often comforted and helped by his brother but often to no avail, for Ira’s impetuous, “wild man” personality carried him into ever more troublesome relationships that he was by nature unable to resolve.

As G.I.s who worked as stevedores on the docks in Iran during World War II, Johnny O’Day first met Ira and introduced him to Communism, making him a lifelong adherent to the cause of helping the proletariat—the working class poor and downtrodden. After the war Ira lived with O’Day for a time in the Midwest, where he worked as a factory hand. During this time, his impersonation of Abraham Lincoln, whose tall build and large physique he resembled, gained him popularity. He was brought to New York, where he became a radio personality and starred in the radio show The Free and the Brave. Through his performances he more or less successfully attempted to promote his left-wing ideals. He then met and fell in love with Eve Frame, now also a radio star, although formerly she had been a Hollywood actress who had been famous during the heyday of silent films.

Eve had been married three times previously. Her first marriage, to a childhood sweetheart with whom she eloped from Brooklyn to go to Hollywood, ended when the studio arranged for her to marry Carlton Pennington, her leading man, notwithstanding that he was a closet homosexual. With him she had a daughter, Sylphid, and acquired her anti-Semitic attitudes and gentile characteristics, despite the fact that she herself, as Chava Fromkin, was born Jewish. After living essentially like a nun for twelve years, she divorced Pennington and married Jumbo Freedman, a Jewish entrepreneur who promised to make her rich, but did not. After that marriage ended, she found and married Ira. During all that time, she and her daughter spent summers in France so that Sylphid could be near her father.

Eve’s slavish devotion to her daughter is largely responsible for the breakup up of her fourth marriage. The pivotal crisis arrives when, pregnant with Ira’s child, which he badly wants her to have, she lets Sylphid browbeat her into getting an abortion. Serious problems trouble the marriage, including Ira’s political ideals, which he loudly and forcefully proclaims no matter what the social occasion. For a brief period these ideals deeply influence Nathan Zuckerman who, when he meets O’Day during his freshman year at the University of Chicago, is almost ready to abandon his studies and follow O’Day’s propagandizing and proselytizing.

Ira’s marriage to Eve protects him, some believe, from the Red-baiting of the early 1950’s engaged in by Senator Joseph McCarthy and some of Eve’s friends, such as Katrina Van Tassell and her husband, Bryden Grant, a notorious gossip columnist. When Ira finally leaves Eve for good, she betrays him by writing I Married a Communist, which was actually ghostwritten by the Grants, thus ruining his career. After a terrible breakdown, he ends his days in Zinc Town, New Jersey, where he had once worked as a miner in the quarry, living an idyllic and secluded life with one of...

(The entire section is 1493 words.)