What are some of the complexities of Neil's and Brenda's romance?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some of the intricacies in both the relationship that Neil and Brenda share exist on social and psychological levels.  One of the reasons why their relationship is a challenging one is because of doubt.  Neil possesses uncertainty and insecurity in his relationship with Brenda.  This makes their relationship a difficult one to appropriate in his own mind.  When Brenda is fitted with a diaphragm, Neil's thoughts do not reflect a comfort with his being in terms of the relationship: "What is it that I love, Lord? Why have I chosen? Who is Brenda? The race is to the swift. Should I have stopped to think?"  These are existential questions. Their very presence is a complex one.  Neil's mindset regarding his relationship with Brenda reflects the intricacies of their relationship, at least on Neil's end.

At the same time, Neil holds a complex view regarding the passage of time.  It is not something in which his reaction is clear, but rather intricate.  While Brenda is looking for a bridesmaid outfit, Neil observes the mothers of children, "a few of whom I recognized as high school mates of mine."  Neil is unable to appropriate any distinct view of the passage of time, other than it does move past the individual. Time is a quantity evokes sadness out of Neil, but also a reflective quality.  His view of time is contrasted with Brenda's understanding of time. She views time as something to overcome.  In instances such as getting fitted with the diaphragm or searching for wedding accessories, she sees time as something to appropriate in accordance to a subjectivity that shows "progression." Neil is not that certain.  Even the idea of the reflection of the romance itself is an ambivalent view of time.  If Neil had been so hurt by the relationship, why would he reflect on it as if one is looking back on the past?  It is in this understanding of time where Neil and Brenda's relationship experience another layer of psychological complexity.

There is an ethnic complexity that is in their relationship, as well.  Neil is struggling with his consciousness.  The issue at hand is how to balance the demands of simultaneously being Jewish and being assimilated.  Neil is hyper aware of his Jewish identity, as seen in "Whenever anyone asks me where I went to school I come right out with it: Newark Colleges of Rutgers University." This reflects a condition where Neil understands his condition as being Jewish. On the other hand, Brenda is part of the consumerist world that has assimilated all notions of social difference into the homogeneity of wealth and acquisition.  The world of the Patimkins is one where "complacency, parochialism, and materialism" have dominated.  This adds a complex dimension to their relationship because Neil struggles with his ethnic identity, while Brenda has entered a realm where hers ceases to exert such a hold upon her.  Neil shoulders the approach of the Patimkins as well as the condition of his Aunt Gladys, who sees Neil as turning his back on being Jewish.  As Neil notices the consumerist wealth around the Patimkins, he also sees the mark of being Jewish, "from the back, round-shouldered, burdened, child- carrying--like people fleeing a captured city."  This complex reality is something that weighs on the relationship that Brenda and Neil share.

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Goodbye, Columbus

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