The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The narrator, David Kepesh, recounts the changes that occurred in his life in the preceding two years, beginning with the peculiar sensations he felt in his penis. These sensations of increased sensitivity, accompanied by increased sexual desire, led to the change that took place between midnight and 4 a.m. on February 18, 1971. Kepesh became a six-foot, 155-pound human female breast. The novella chronicles Kepesh’s responses to his condition, which vary from acceptance to a conviction that he has become mad.

The novella is divided into five sections. In the first, Kepesh describes his “symptoms” before the change from man to mammary. He details his sexual feelings for Claire, the twenty-five-year-old woman he has been seeing for three years. The cooling of his desire for her during the past year changed right before his transformation: He felt excruciatingly sensitive while making love to her, but only because his penis was becoming a nipple and areola and the rest of his body was becoming a huge breast disconnected from any human form. Up to this point, Kepesh’s life had been stable for the first time in more than a decade, and his relationship with Claire provided warmth and security without “the accompanying burden of dependence, or the grinding boredom” of most marriages with which he was familiar. That comfort, however, vanished with his metamorphosis.

In the second section, Kepesh is tended to...

(The entire section is 577 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Breast is a most innovative brilliant novel. The narrative fiction focuses on a human character's acceptance of a bizarre...

(The entire section is 69 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

For The Professor of Desire

1. Is Roth able to rise above the erotic to create a realistic novel of human emotion and...

(The entire section is 517 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The novel is strongly indebted to Kafka's The Metamorphosis (1915) and Gogol's The Nose and shows the frustrations suffered by...

(The entire section is 37 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The hilarious fantasies of Portnoy's Complaint are more realistically and painfully examined in The Breast. The imbued...

(The entire section is 540 words.)


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

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Halio, Jay L., and Ben Siegel, eds. “Turning Up the Flame”: Philip Roth’s Later Novels. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004.

Lee, Hermione. Philip Roth. London: Methuen, 1982.

Milbauer, Asher Z., ed. Reading Philip Roth. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.

Pinsker, Sanford. The Comedy That “Hoits”: An Essay on the Fiction of Philip Roth. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1975.

Pinsker, Sanford, ed. Critical Essays on Philip Roth. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982.

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Schechner, Mark. After the Revolution: Studies in the Contemporary Jewish American Imagination. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Schechner, Mark. “Up Society’s Ass, Copper”: Rereading Philip Roth. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.

Shostak, Debra. Philip Roth—Countertexts, Counterlives. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004.