Study Guide

My Life as a Man

by Philip Roth

My Life as a Man Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

In My Life as a Man, Roth invents a fictitious character, Peter Tarnopol, whose life closely parallels his own, just as the life of Tarnopol’s fictitious character, Nathan Zuckerman, closely parallels his. The result is what Roth calls a “useful fiction.” Such fictions help the writer explore alternative ideas of one’s fate—in this instance, alternative versions of Roth’s early years and particularly of his marriage to Margaret Martinson.

The novel begins with two such “useful fictions.” The first, “Salad Days,” recounts Zuckerman’s early childhood, not unlike Portnoy’s, although here it is the father who dominates rather than the mother. Lighthearted and funny, especially in Zuckerman’s seduction of Sharon Shatzky, it is different in tone from the darker humor of “Courting Disaster,” the “useful fiction” that follows it, in which Tarnopol describes his strange courtship and unhappy marriage to Maureen Ketterer.

In “My True Story,” Tarnopol drops his alter ego, Zuckerman, and attempts to tell what really happened. He writes while secluded in Quahsay, an artists’ colony similar to Yaddo, Roth’s favorite retreat. He describes meeting Maureen while an instructor at the University of Chicago. Not her beauty so much as her prior experience, especially with men who had mistreated and abused her, is her main attraction. Eventually, although their affair has been anything but tranquil, Maureen tricks...

(The entire section is 531 words.)

My Life as a Man Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Halio, Jay L. Philip Roth Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Halio, Jay L., and Ben Siegel, eds. “Turning Up the Flame”: Philip Roth’s Later Novels. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004.

Lee, Hermione. Philip Roth. London: Methuen, 1982.

Milbauer, Asher Z., ed. Reading Philip Roth. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.

Pinsker, Sanford. The Comedy That “Hoits”: An Essay on the Fiction of Philip Roth. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1975.

Pinsker, Sanford, ed. Critical Essays on Philip Roth. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982.

Rodgers, Bernard F., Jr. Philip Roth. Boston: Twayne, 1978.

Schechner, Mark. After the Revolution: Studies in the Contemporary Jewish American Imagination. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Schechner, Mark. “Up Society’s Ass, Copper”: Rereading Philip Roth. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.

Shostak, Debra. Philip Roth—Countertexts, Counterlives. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004.