Study Guide

World's Fair

by E. L. Doctorow

World's Fair Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

World’s Fair begins with the earliest memories of Edgar Altschuler and concludes when he is nine years old with two visits to the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York. Edgar is the first-person narrator of thirty-one chapters, but his retrospective point of view merges the naïve impressions of a child with the more perceptive reflections of an adult. Four brief sections narrated by Rose, two sections narrated by Donald, and one section narrated by Edgar’s Aunt Frances supplement Edgar’s egocentric version of the family history. By making the street address and first names of the fictional Altschulers coincide with the actual address and names of his own family, Doctorow suggests that Edgar’s story of growing up is a thinly disguised account of his own boyhood.

Presented as a memoir, this novel has a loose, episodic plot. First, Rose establishes a foundation for Edgar’s narrative with brief comments about her parents’ emigration from Russia and her own birth on the Lower East Side. Then Edgar describes his horror upon awaking in a urine-soaked crib and the subsequent comfort of being dried and transported to his parents’ warm bed. Amid such scenes of parental protection, Edgar also recalls episodes fraught with fear and mystery. A car almost kills his dog Pinky, and thugs from nearby Italian and Irish neighborhoods draw swastikas on the family’s garage doors.

As Edgar’s horizons expand, he observes tensions in the extended family during Sunday visits to Dave’s parents and at a Seder meal. He also overhears his parents argue about Dave’s business mistakes, his gambling, and his alleged infidelities. On a trip to...

(The entire section is 684 words.)

World's Fair Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Atlantic. CCLVI, December, 1985, p. 119.

Booklist. LXXXII, September 15, 1985, p. 90.

Cosmopolitan. CXCIX, November, 1985, p. 66.

Esquire. CIV, November, 1985, p. 25.

Fowler, Douglas. Understanding E. L. Doctorow. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1992. A useful introduction to Doctorow’s themes and techniques.

Glamour. LXXXIII, December, 1985, p. 192.

Harter, Carol C., and James R. Thompson. E. L. Doctorow. Boston: Twayne, 1990. Straightforward biocritical survey of Doctorow’s work, with useful bibliography and chronology.

Levine, Paul. E. L. Doctorow. New York: Methuen, 1985. Concise analysis of Doctorow’s short stories and the five novels prior to World’s Fair, with particular emphasis on his revision of history.

Morris, Christopher D. Models of Misrepresentation: On the Fiction of E. L. Doctorow. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991. A theoretical study of the problems of fictional representation based on ideas of Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, and J. Hillis Miller. Suggested for more advanced students.

Nation. CCXLI, November 30, 1985, p. 594.

The New York Review of Books. XXXII, December 19, 1985, p. 23.

The New York Times Book Review. XC, November 10, 1985, p. 3.

Newsweek. CVI, November 4, 1985, p. 69.

Parks, John G. E. L. Doctorow. New York: Continuum, 1991. Perceptive commentary on Doctorow’s novels and the play Drinks Before Dinner (1979), with particular attention to important social and political forces in American history.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXVIII, September 13, 1985, p. 124.

Time. CXXVI, November 18, 1985, p. 100.

Vogue. CLXXV, November, 1985, p. 286.