The Education of Robert Nifkin is a very funny novel about distinctly unfunny subjects. Nifkin encounters anti-Semitic, communist witch hunts, insane teachers, cruel and duplicitous school administrators, and young people who, like himself, cannot fit into their schools or their neighborhoods, and for whom home is often a wasteland of intellectual sterility. The Education of Robert Nifkin is one of the most serious of Pinkwater's many funny novels because underlying the humor is an account of how a generation of children could be alienated from their parents and the society they are supposedly being groomed to enter. The novel, despite cruel topics and serious social concerns, is ultimately upbeat in temper and tone. Nifkin is an active agent who does not just allow evil to be done to him. With the help of a community of misfits and some cynical but open-hearted adults, he overcomes the social limitations constricting his life, discovers a wonderful world of urban activity around him, and triumphantly gives himself the education school has failed to provide by studying on his own and pursuing his intellectual interests in libraries and coffee houses. Society still has much to offer Nifkin, in spite of a very bad educational system, and he finds some of it with help from his friends.