What is the importance of assimilation in The Bellarosa Connection and how does assimilation tie into the theme of survivor’s guilt? How would you interpret this quote from the work, “The Jews...

What is the importance of assimilation in The Bellarosa Connection and how does assimilation tie into the theme of survivor’s guilt? How would you interpret this quote from the work, “The Jews could survive everything that Europe threw at them. I mean the lucky remnant. But now comes the next test—America. Can they hold their ground, or will the USA be too much for them”?

Expert Answers
yscorse eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nobel laureate Saul Bellow’s 1989 novella The Bellarosa Connection explores the impact of the Holocaust on survivors. The unnamed narrator is a Russian Jew from New Jersey who is a specialist in memory. He tells the story of Harry Fonstein, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust who had been rescued by Billy Rose, a New York celebrity who had had an underground operation in Rome.

The narrator is first introduced to Fonstein by his father who ''hoped it would straighten me out to hear what people had suffered in Europe, in the real world.'' This quote demonstrates these themes of assimilation and guilt, showing a tension felt by American Jews who haven’t faced “real world” terror and persecution.

Fonstein’s story is one of assimilation. As a refugee from a Nazi prison camp, Fonstein is helped by Billy Rose’s organization, the Bellarosa Society, to eventually make his way to New York where he becomes rich and successful. Fonstein’s wife Sorella says after meeting the elusive Billy Rose in person, “The Jews could survive everything that Europe threw at them. I mean the lucky remnant. But now comes the next test—America. Can they hold their ground, or will the USA be too much for them?” This quote demonstrates the difficulty of assimilation for European Jews in the USA. By “hold their ground,” the speaker may be referring to the conflicting desires to assimilate or to hold on to their identity, culture, past.

Later, in the narrator’s old age, he has a dream that brings this insight: “I had discovered for how long I had shielded myself from unbearable imaginations—no, not imaginations, but recognitions—of murder, of relish in torture, of the ground bass of brutality, without which no human music ever is performed.'' This quote implies a feeling similar to survivor’s guilt—the guilt of never having faced evil in the first place. The narrator, as an American born Jew, is fully assimilated into American culture but lives in the shadow of past brutality. The novel concludes with the narrator’s determination to “''record everything I could remember of the Bellarosa Connection.” Thus, memory becomes a way to honor and live with the past.

Read the study guide:
The Bellarosa Connection

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question