Amos Oz Long Fiction Analysis
Amos Oz’s fiction is often concerned with domestic relationships, portrayed in a realistic manner. However, within this realistic facade, his characters struggle with internal conflicts between body and spirit, their own desires and social constraints, irrational impulses opposed to stability, and their faith in Israel tinged with skepticism. While they dream of perfection and long for the Messiah, they must navigate the dangerous reality of life in Israel. Most of Oz’s novels are serious psychological studies, thoughtful and self-assured, and occasionally lightened by a mordant humor. Many of his characters believe they are living in a dream world, especially when people they believe they know suddenly behave in uncharacteristic ways.
In style, Oz is innovative. His novels take varying shapes, from Black Box, an epistolary novel, to the free-flowing lyricism of The Same Sea, which is told in poetic paragraphs that intersperse the past and the present, the near and the far. Among the story’s extraordinary range of voices, the reader sometimes hears the ghostly voice of the deceased. Some of his novels have a claustrophobic feeling, which mirrors the claustrophobia of the intense familial relationships they portray.
My Michael, published in 1968, became Oz’s breakthrough work and made him one of Israel’s best young novelists. My Michael is the story of its first-person narrator, Hannah Greenbaum, a thirty-year-old native of Jerusalem who is married to Dr. Michael Gonen, a geologist and, in Hannah’s own words, a “good-natured man.” Unlike traditional plots, this novel is structured by Hannah’s slow decline into mental illness during her courtship and marriage.
Michael and Hannah meet when they are both students: he a third-year geology student and she a first-year student at Hebrew University. In the mornings she teaches at a kindergarten. One of the first clues to Hannah’s instability is her relationship to her deceased father, whose presence in Hannah’s mind is felt from the beginning of the novel, when she interrupts her story of how she and Michael met with the incongruous declaration that she has never loved anyone as much as her father. She also fondly recalls a bout of diphtheria she suffered when a child, from which she recovered reluctantly. Memories and fantasies of childhood are interspersed throughout her narrative.
Michael is an only child, and his family hopes he will be a scholar. After a brief courtship with Hannah, he proposes marriage. Hannah accepts, but she also realizes that Michael bores her. Their son, Yair, is born near the end of their first year of marriage. Hannah gives up her studies in literature at Hebrew University and Michael passes his exams, but money is still scarce. Hannah has a nervous breakdown, and when she is ill, Michael is called up for military duty in the 1956 war, giving Hannah new fantasies of military excursions mixed with news from the front. Eventually, her mental condition improves, and Michael returns from military duty. Their days settle down to routine: Michael finishes his thesis and Hannah is once again pregnant, yet she remains lost in fantasy and Michael remains unable to enter her interior world. My Michael is distinguished by the remarkable integration of Hannah’s inner and outer worlds and its pattern of significant motifs woven delicately throughout...
(The entire section is 1410 words.)