The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The characters of The Puttermesser Papers are less novelistic creations who grow and change in the course of the novel than they are static and one-dimensional figures in Ozick’s fantastic allegory. With the exception of Ruth Puttermesser, whom readers come to pity more than admire, most of the characters function as figures serving Ozick’s purpose of social satire. An alter ego for Ozick herself, Ruth made her first appearance in 1962 as a character in story published in The New Yorker magazine that later became the first chapter of The Puttermesser Papers. About once a decade afterward, Ozick revisited Ruth to add another chapter to a character who came to life at age thirty-four, then entered successive decades as Ozick herself entered them. The first two chapters of Ruth’s saga appeared in Levitation (1982).

The second chapter, “Puttermesser and Xanthippe,” confirms Ozick’s reputation for outrageous inventiveness when Ruth creates and animates the golem. A fantastic Frankenstein-like creation, Xanthippe, named after Socrates’s wife, aids Ruth in her revenge upon the political machine that fired her and helps her in her “Plan for the Resuscitation, Reformation, Reinvigoration and Redemption of the City of New York.” Then, as Frankenstein raged against his creator, the golem utterly destroys Ruth’s achievements as mayor. This plot also resonates with echoes of the Book of Genesis, in which God...

(The entire section is 448 words.)