Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Operation Shylock is a very Jewish version of the use of the literary double. Roth establishes this theme in his two prefatory mottoes. The first translates Genesis 32:24: “So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” Roth suggests that the first split self in literature may have been the mysterious stranger, possibly the Angel of Death, who represents the fate Jacob fears at the hands of his vengeful brother, Esau. Could Pipik be an Esau, threatening Jacob-Philip?

The second epigraph is from Søren Kierkegaard:

The whole content of my being shrieksin contradiction against itself.Existence is surely a debate. . . .

“Against itself” is Roth’s evaluation of his nature, his art, possibly his life. For this is a confessional and self-reflexive novel, pointedly exposing Roth’s own history and the text’s structure as fictive artifice. Like his Philip, Roth is a brainy, funny, self-consciously Jewish writer with affectionate memories of his boyhood in Newark, New Jersey, with a wife whose first name is Claire (the British actress Claire Bloom), with a farmhouse home in Connecticut, and with Appelfeld his good friend. Like his Philip, Roth attended John Demjanjuk’s trial. As he states in a final note, he used verbatim the minutes of one of the morning sessions to provide the...

(The entire section is 484 words.)

Operation Shylock: A Confession Themes

In its broadest sense, the theme of Operation Shylock emerges as the struggle of a fictional character who agonizes over retaining his...

(The entire section is 169 words.)