Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 415
"You don't look right to me. You're not a little god-damn Commie, by any chance?" his homeroom teacher Mrs. Kukla asks Robert Nifkin. This harangue epitomizes the world of his high school, situated as it is in the Eisenhower 1950s, with the Cold War hot and the country haunted by hunts everywhere for communist subversives, including daily and bizzare hunts in Nifkin's high school. Mrs. MacAllister, his English teacher, adds to these hunts for communists her own perverse twist that Jews are also to be feared, "And Jews want to destroy our traditional values. They are sexual deviants, and they spread pornography." This adds greatly to the Jewish Nifkin's discomfort at school. Then there is Mrs. Sweet, the biology teacher, who talks to her plants, ignores her students, and conducts one of the most disgusting frog dissection labs in history. All this has Nifkin wondering, "Was there an international crazy-ladies conspiracy?"
The only bona fide communist at the high school is Sergeant Gunter, the man who runs the school's ROTC unit, and who warns his students about the evils of commissioned officers. He is eventually turned in by one of his students, then arrested and jailed. He is the only teacher Nifkin likes, and his arrest ends any interest Nifkin has in attending school; he is unpopular with the other students and his few friends are people outside of school. He eventually stops attending classes and starts helping deliver fake "antiques" to buyers who do not seem to care that they are blatantly obvious frauds. He notes that his parents, who wallow in their incredibly bad taste in home furnishings, would love the ornate fabrications. Home can only be better than school, but this is damning with faint praise since home is still an alienating place. Nifkin's father is forever hassling him about not being manly, calling him a "sissy boy" and other demeaning names.
His perambulations outside of school allow him to discover some of the wonders of Chicago, a city with eccentric characters, strange coffee houses, fascinating art galleries, and wondrous architecture. After he is reported as a truant and forced to return to his school, he is introduced by a friend to Wheaton School, a private institution housed in a great old mansion where abuse and harsh discipline are nonexistent, students and teachers can meet in the dead of night, and everyone earns good grades. Even Jeremy Holtz, a good-hearted but very simpleminded young man, does well enough to go to Princeton.
Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 325
The narrator of The Education of Robert Nifkin is Nifkin himself; the novel is supposedly his essay response to an admissions form for St. Leon's College (probably intended as a parallel to Pinkwater's own alma mater Bard College). One of the (in his opinion, absurd) questions on the admissions application was:
64. Characterize, in essay form, your high-school experience. You may use additional sheets of paper as needed.
Since Pinkwater would have been applying for college himself in the 1950s, the novel may well be the imaginative response he would have liked to have given to a similar topic on his own admission application. Since author and protagonist both have Chicago backgrounds, it is easy to draw a parallel between Nifkin's admiration of the city's architecture, his love of art, and his absorption in American literature with Pinkwater's own likely experience as an artistic young man who would become a sculptor, illustrator, and a professional writer. Pinkwater also seems to invite the drawing of parallels between himself and Nifkin by naming Nifkin's mother Faye, a match for his own mother's name Fay, and by dating the essay "Robert Nifkin, Chicago, October 1958," which would be when Pinkwater himself would have been applying for admission to college. Beyond these parallels one should take care to note that Nifkin is a created character, as are the other figures in the novel, which is fiction drawn from memories of life not autobiography. That Nifkin looks somewhat like Pinkwater, weighing in at 222 pounds, is not remarkable, as most of Pinkwater's main characters are heavy like himself. Pinkwater often uses aspects of his own youth as part of the background in his novels. In Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars (1979; see separate entry, Vol. 9), main character Leonard Neeble's father is in the rag business, as Pinkwater's own father was. Therefore, his use of childhood borrowings in The Education of Robert Nifkin, although heavy when compared to other Pinkwater works, is not unusual.
Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 96
"D(aniel) M(anus) Pinkwater." In Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 35. Edited by Daniel G. Marowski, Roger Matuz, and Jane E. Neidhardt. Detroit: Gale Research, 1985, pp. 317-321. A gathering of snippets from reviews of Pinkwater's novels.
Pendergast, Tom. "Pinkwater, Daniel Manus." In Contemporary Authors: New Revision Series. Vol. 38. Edited by James G. Lesniak and Susan M. Trosky. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993, pp. 335-338. A brief summary of Pinkwater's career.
Telgen, Diane. "Pinkwater, Daniel Manus." In Something about the Author. Vol. 76. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994, pp. 177-181. An overview of Pinkwater's career with juicy quotations from an interview of Pinkwater.
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