The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Mickey Sabbath is not a new character to readers familiar with Roth’s work. Perhaps the first version was Alexander Portnoy, the protagonist of Roth’s 1969 Portnoy’s Complaint. They share a colossal misogyny, self-hatred, enormous libidinous energies, world-weariness, and boredom. They lack a spiritual center that might be a guide through the turmoil of life. For them, there is no meaning in anything except self-gratification, which turns out to be an empty exercise. Sabbath’s efforts to find gratification through sex know no limits. His unleashed libido is capable of the most grotesque forms of experimentation. Yet that satisfaction is only momentary and only leads him to more bizarre experimentation.

Yet Sabbath is the psychological center of this novel. All the other characters are projected as he sees them and interacts with them. Although deformed in many ways, Sabbath is capable of love, or at least remembered love. His love for his immediate family is a critical element in his psyche. He remembers a happy childhood for the family of mother, father, Morty, and himself. As the younger brother, Sabbath looked up to Morty, who in high school not only earned good grades but also was well liked, a star athlete, and president of his class. During the war, Morty decided to enlist; when the family learned that he had been shot down and killed in combat by the Japanese, they were devastated by grief. His mother began a slow decline into...

(The entire section is 406 words.)