Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Philip Roth was born in Newark, New Jersey, on March 19, 1933, and grew up in a section of Newark that was then predominantly middle-class Jewish. Roth graduated from Weequahic High School in 1951 and attended Newark College at Rutgers University for a year before transferring to Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. Though the family could scarcely afford the expensive private college, Roth’s father was determined to make the sacrifices necessary to let his son get the education he wanted.
At Bucknell, Roth wrote for the literary magazine, in which he published his earliest stories. He made Phi Beta Kappa and graduated with an A.B., magna cum laude, in 1954, after which he went to the University of Chicago as a graduate student and instructor in English literature. He received his M.A. in 1955 and then served in the United States Army in 1955 and 1956. By this time, his stories had begun appearing in literary magazines such as The Chicago Review and Epoch; in 1955, one of them was selected for Martha Foley’s anthology Best American Short Stories. While in the Army Roth continued writing, and in 1959 his first collection, Goodbye, Columbus, and Five Short Stories, was published. It won the National Book Award for fiction in 1960. Roth was only twenty-six.
Much of his early life is presented in The...
(The entire section is 1180 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Roth’s development as a novelist shows both a deepening of his comedy and an expanding range of skills. Preoccupied by the idea of “counter-lives,” or variations upon self-portraits, he examines various versions of his experience with telling effect and enormous insights. His preoccupation notwithstanding, he rarely repeats himself. Instead, he constantly attempts to expand the boundaries of his comic art, whose depths he tirelessly and wittily explores, with bountiful rewards.
(The entire section is 71 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Philip Milton Roth was reared in Newark, New Jersey, where he was influenced by the rising urban Jewish culture that dominated the intellectual and cultural life of part of that city. After graduating from Weequahic High School, he attended Newark College of Rutgers University from 1950 to 1951, finished his B.A. at Bucknell University in 1954, and earned an M.A. at the University of Chicago in 1955. After a stint in the United States Army, he returned to the University of Chicago, where he completed most of his work toward a Ph.D. and taught literature from 1956 to 1958. Roth’s stormy personal relationships and health problems have figured in much of his writing. In 1959 he was married to Margaret Martinson Williams, from whom he obtained a legal separation in 1963. She died in 1968. In 1990, Roth married his long-term companion, the actress Claire Bloom, and they divorced in 1995. Roth suffered serious appendicitis and peritonitis in 1967, drug-induced depression following knee surgery in 1987, and quintuple-bypass surgery in 1989; he also spent time in a psychiatric hospital during his marriage to Bloom.
(The entire section is 174 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Born in the Weequahic section of Newark, New Jersey, on March 19, 1933, Philip Roth learned very early what it was like to grow up Jewish in a lower-middle-class neighborhood of a large metropolitan area. His parents were Beth Finkel Roth and Herman Roth; his father was a salesman for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. After he graduated from Weequahic High School in 1950, Roth worked for a while at the Newark Public Library and attended Newark College of Rutgers University. A year later, he transferred to Bucknell University. Although the family could ill afford the expense of a private college, Herman Roth determined that if his son wanted to go there, he would go. At Bucknell, Roth began writing stories and edited the school’s literary magazine. He also had his first love affairs, from which he drew incidents (fictionally transformed) for his subsequent novels. He received his B.A. in English, magna cum laude, in 1954, and he accepted a teaching fellowship at the University of Chicago for graduate work in English.
After receiving his M.A. in English from Chicago, Roth enlisted in the U.S. Army, but a back injury suffered during basic training resulted in an early discharge. He returned to Chicago to pursue doctoral studies in English and continued writing short stories; he had begun to get stories published as early as the fall of 1954 in small literary journals such as the Chicago Review and Epoch. Several of his stories were...
(The entire section is 576 words.)
Philip Roth’s youth in a largely Jewish neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey, established his first subject: the ambivalence felt by American Jews on facing assimilation into American culture, which entails the loss of much, possibly all, of their distinctive Jewishness. Roth grew up in a middle-class home where, he writes, “the Jewish family was an inviolate haven against every form of menace, from personal isolation to gentile hostility.” Roth has been unwilling, however, simply to depict the Jewish family as a haven. His inclination to challenge Jewish American propriety and his extravagant comic imagination have won for him a controversial place in American letters. After an education at Bucknell University and the University of Chicago, Roth earned with the publication of Goodbye, Columbus, and Five Short Stories the National Book Award and condemnation as an anti-Semite by some Jewish leaders.
Roth’s tendency to use details from his life in his fiction has invited misinterpretations of his work as autobiography. An unhappy and short-lived marriage to Margaret Martinson, for example, was translated by Roth into My Life as a Man, in which Margaret’s fictional surrogate attracts and devastates the protagonist in part because she is not Jewish. Roth’s second wife, the Jewish actress Claire Bloom, may have provided in her...
(The entire section is 351 words.)
Biography (The Sixties in America)
Roth was born into a lower-middle-class Jewish family, and his memories of the social stratification of his home have found their way into his fiction. He attended Rutgers University and in 1954 received his bachelor’s degree from Bucknell University and the next year his master’s degree from the University of Chicago. From 1956 to 1957, he studied at the University of Chicago, and some of those experiences were transformed into his second novel, Letting Go (1962). His writing career began with the publication of Goodbye, Columbus (1959), a novella and five stories, that won him a number of awards and signaled the emergence of a new, compelling voice in American letters.
In 1960, Roth won the National Book Award and spent much of the decade as a writer-in-residence at a number of American universities. With the publication of Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), Roth’s career changed dramatically. The novel was a best-seller and brought Roth recognition and financial security. However, popularity brought a severe critical backlash, with some critics labeling him anti-Semitic.
The novel is a bildungsroman that chronicles the tortured exploits of a successful young man who wrestles with his Jewish heritage. Alexander...
(The entire section is 1147 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Along with Bernard Malamud and Saul Bellow, Philip Milton Roth is one of the most prominent of the American Jewish novelists who emerged after World War II. Most of his fiction focuses on figures who are recognizably second-or third-generation Jews struggling to come to terms with the attractions and repulsions of life in the United States. Roth was born in Newark, New Jersey, on March 19, 1933, and grew up in a lower-middle-class Jewish section of the city. His father was an insurance salesman and his mother a homemaker. After one year at Newark College, Rutgers University, Roth transferred to Bucknell University, in rural Pennsylvania, where he edited the literary magazine and received a B.A. in English, magna cum laude, in 1954. After receiving an M.A. in English from the University of Chicago in 1955, he enlisted in the U.S. Army but, as a result of a back injury sustained in basic training, received a medical discharge. He returned to Chicago, where he spent a year as a Ph.D. candidate and an instructor in English. He later held teaching positions at the University of Iowa, Princeton University, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and the University of Pennsylvania, and he maintained residences in both London and upstate New York. A champion of authors from Soviet Bloc nations, Roth in 1975 became editor of the Writers from the Other Europe series for Penguin Books.
(The entire section is 1164 words.)
IntroductionPhilip Roth is one of America’s most award-winning authors. He’s won the National Book Award twice, the National Book Critic’s Circle Award twice, three PEN/Faulkner Awards, and a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Roth began his literary career shortly after receiving his master’s degree in English literature. In addition to his well-received novels, Roth has also written short stories, film reviews, and political satire. His most famous works are Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy’s Complaint. Roth also created a character named Nathan Zuckerman that figures prominently in several of his books. Because personal angst is a hallmark of Roth’s writing, the Zuckerman character, which serves as an alter ego for the author, has been a kind of barometer for Roth’s personal and artistic growth.
- Roth’s first wife, Margaret Martinson, inspired several characters in Roth novels, including his well-known Portnoy’s Complaint.
- Roth reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown later in life. The event is reflected in his novel Operation Shylock.
- In addition to writing award-winning books, Roth has taught comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania for many years.
- Actress Claire Bloom, Roth’s second wife (and second ex-wife), published a tell-all book titled Exiting a Doll’s House, which documented in unflattering detail the breakdown of their marriage.
- The title of Roth’s novel The Human Stain is a reference to the sex scandal involving former U.S. President Bill Clinton, intern Monica Lewinsky, and her now-infamous (and unwashed) dress.
All Resources by Category
American Pastoral Masterplot
Critical Survey of Short Fiction
Goodbye, Columbus Identity and Issues
Jewish American Long Fiction
Letting Go Masterplot
Operation Shylock Masterplot
Philip Roth - Critical Survey of Long Fiction
Philip Roth Criticism
Portnoy's Complaint Censorship
Portnoy's Complaint Identities and Issues
Portnoy's Complaint Literary Characters
Portnoy's Complaint Literary Places
Sabbath's Theater Masterplot
Short Story Criticism
The Anatomy Lesson Literary Characters
The Breast - Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature
The Counterlife Masterplot
The Ghost Writer Literary Characters
The Great American Novel Masterplot
The Prague Orgy Literary Characters
Zuckerman Bound Masterplot
American Pastoral Book Review
American Pastoral Book Review
I Married a Communist Book Review
Operation Shylock Book Review
Patrimony Book Review
Sabbath's Theater Book Review
The Dying Animal Book Review
The Facts Book Review
The Human Stain Book Review
The Plot Against America Book Review
Philip Roth was born on March 19, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey, into a lower-middle-class Jewish family. He attended Rutgers University in Newark from 1950 to 1951, then transferred to Bucknell University, from which he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laud, with a major in English, in 1954. Roth earned a Master of Arts from the University of Chicago in 1955, and from 1955 to 1956 he served in the U.S. Army, from which he was honorably discharged due to a back injury. He briefly enrolled in a Ph.D. program in English at the University of Chicago, but left in 1957 to pursue a career in writing. Roth has worked as an instructor at University of Chicago (1956-1958), University of Iowa (1960-1962), State University of New York at Stony Brook (1967-1968), and Hunter City College University of New York (1989-1992). He was writer-in-residence at Princeton University from 1962 to 1964 and at University of Pennsylvania from 1965 to 1980. Roth has been married twice, to Margaret Martinson, from 1959 until her death in 1968, and then to Claire Bloom, the noted British Shakespearean actress, from 1990 until their divorce in 1994. Roth's 1998 novel, I Married a Communist, is based on the aftermath of this messy divorce, perhaps in response to Bloom's 1996 memoir, Leaving a Doll's House, which focuses on their relationship, depicting Roth in an unflattering light.
Because his protagonists and their experiences usually closely resemble Roth and his...
(The entire section is 348 words.)
Roth was born in Newark, New Jersey, on March 19, 1933, into a working-class Jewish family. He attended Rutgers University (1950–1951), then transferred to Bucknell University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in English in 1954. He received his master’s degree in English from the University of Chicago in 1955; then he briefly joined the United States Army. However, within a year, he was discharged because of a back injury and returned to the University of Chicago. He did two years of doctoral work (1956–1957), working as an instructor at the same time. In 1957, he withdrew from the doctoral program, traveled for a summer in Europe, then moved to New York City. His experiences growing up as a Jewish American in a largely Jewish community have influenced many of his works, including his first work, Goodbye, Columbus, and Five Short Stories (1959), which included ‘‘The Conversion of the Jews.’’ The book was awarded a National Book Award for fiction in 1960.
Over the next four decades, Roth published more than twenty books, including novels, two autobiographies, and a collection of essays. One book in particular, Reading Myself and Others (1975), addresses many of the controversial issues that surround Roth’s satirical attacks on Jewish Americans. The book also addresses another controversy surrounding Roth’s writing, the fact that he has repeatedly changed his style throughout his career. While most writers with long...
(The entire section is 311 words.)
Biography (Novels for Students)
One of America’s leading novelists of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, Philip Roth explores the conflicts and tensions in American Jewish life. Roth was born in Newark, New Jersey, on March 19, 1933, the eldest son of Herman and Bess Roth, who were Jewish immigrants from Europe. Roth was raised in the Weequahic area of Newark, during the Depression. He graduated from high school at the age of sixteen and then earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Bucknell University in 1954 and a master of arts degree, also in English, from the University of Chicago in 1955.
Roth served in the U.S. Army from 1955 to 1956 and married Margaret Martinson in 1959; they separated in 1963. His first book, Goodbye, Columbus, and Five Short Stories (1959), won the National Book Award in 1960. After two novels that received comparatively little attention, Roth wrote one of his best known novels, Portnoy’s Complaint (1969). Its portrayal of the overbearing Jewish mother and her repressed son, Alex Portnoy, gave thousands of readers a hilarious picture of growing up Jewish in America in the 1940s and 1950s.
Through the 1970s Roth published a number of successful novels. In 1979, Roth published The Ghost Writer, the first novel in which Nathan Zuckerman appeared. Zuckerman, a writer, is Roth’s alter ego, a semi-autobiographical figure, although not everything that happens to Zuckerman also happened to Roth....
(The entire section is 417 words.)