Cynthia Ozick Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How do historical events such as World War II or the Holocaust influence Cynthia Ozick’s fiction?

What points does Ozick make about the immigrant experience?

Discuss how Ozick shows the corrupting influence of power, whether acquired through political patronage or through money.

What effect does the secular society of the United States have on the Jewish community?

Why does Ozick often people her fiction with adult orphans and exiles?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Cynthia Ozick is the author of poems, articles, reviews, and essays, as well as short stories. She has also published several novels, including Trust (1966), The Cannibal Galaxy (1983), and The Messiah of Stockholm (1987). Her poems have appeared in journals such as Epoch, Commentary, The Literary Review, and Judaism. Her other short works have been published frequently in journals such as those mentioned above and also in a wide variety of others.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Often characterized as difficult and involved in syntax and idea, Cynthia Ozick’s works have, nevertheless, received many awards. The short fiction especially has been judged prizeworthy, winning for her such prestigious awards and honors as the Best American Short Stories award (several times), the National Book Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction, the O. Henry Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the Jewish Book Council Award. Immediately consequent to the publication of “Rosa,” one of her prizewinning stories, Ozick was invited to deliver the Phi Beta Kappa oration at Harvard University, and she became the first person to receive the Michael Rea Award for career contribution to the short story. She has received a number of honorary degrees from schools like Adelphi University, Williams College, Brandeis University, and Skidmore College as well as Yeshiva University, Hebrew Union College, and the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Cynthia Ozick’s forte is short fiction, especially the novella; two of her novels, The Cannibal Galaxy and The Puttermesser Papers, were in fact developed from shorter pieces. Many of her stories have been collected in volumes such as The Pagan Rabbi, and Other Stories (1971) and The Shawl (1989). Although her literary reputation depends primarily on her fiction, Ozick has also published dozens of essays, largely dealing with the same major theme found in her fiction—that of Jewish identity. Both her essays and her short stories have appeared in such periodicals as The New Yorker, Harper’s, Partisan Review, and Salmagundi. Her essays have been collected in a number of volumes, including Art and Ardor (1983), What Henry James Knew, and Other Essays on Writers (1993), Portrait of the Artist as a Bad Character, and Other Essays on Writing (1996), and Quarrel and Quandary: Essays (2000). Her poetry, which is also accomplished, has appeared in such publications as Commentary, The Literary Review, and Epoch. Her one play, Blue Light (based on Ozick’s highly acclaimed short story “The Shawl”), had a staged reading in 1993 and a full production in 1994.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Cynthia Ozick has consciously reflected a major literary debate that has been ongoing since the mid-twentieth century. Although she began as a self-confessed worshiper at the shrine of art for art’s sake and the formalistic standards represented by American novelist Henry James, in middle life she rebelled against that view. Increasingly, she asserted that an author should be actively engaged in judgment and interpretation and that a story should “mean” and not merely “be.” In particular, she hopes to create a midrash, or fictive commentary, on Jewish life in the Diaspora. She sees the overvaluation of art as a form of “idolatry,” a violation of the Second Commandment, and therefore a contradiction to “Jewish sensibility.”

Ozick’s fiction is thickly textured, allusive, and highly imaginative. Short accounts of her work do not do justice to her verbal energy and powerful range of reference. Regarded as one of the world’s finest short-story writers, she has accumulated many honors, including the National Book Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the O. Henry Award. In 2006, Ozick was on the short list for the Man Booker International Prize. Ozick has the unique honor of being the first writer to be awarded the Rea Award for the Short Story. Her work has been translated into most major languages.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Alkana, Joseph. “’Do We Not Know the Meaning of Aesthetic Gratification?’ Cynthia Ozick’s The Shawl, the Akedah, and the Ethics of Holocaust Literary Aesthetics.” Modern Fiction Studies 43 (Winter, 1997): 963-990. Argues that Ozick takes a stance against universalism in the two stories, the tendency to level human suffering under an all-inclusive existential or theological quandary.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Cynthia Ozick: Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. An excellent collection of essays, including brief book reviews as well as lengthy articles. Much of value for both the beginning student and a scholarly audience involved in an examination of complications of idea and form.

Burstein, Janet Handler. “Cynthia Ozick and the Transgressions of Art.” American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography 59 (March, 1987): 85-101. One of a number of articles on Ozick appearing in major scholarly journals. Concludes that Ozick is the most provocative of contemporary Jewish American voices. Her intelligence and stature provide her with an authoritarian voice as she speaks of literature and art and the didactic moral purpose art must display.

Cohen, Sarah Blacher. Cynthia Ozick’s Comic Art: From Levity to Liturgy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. Places Ozick in the context of the Jewish comic tradition but argues that levity in...

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