Literary Techniques

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In Exodus, Uris presents his characters in terms of historical events that both shape them, and in turn, they themselves influence. For example, Dov Landau learns to survive in the hellish conditions of the besieged Warsaw Ghetto, and German concentration and British refugee camps; later he is willing to take violent action in defiance of the restriction placed on Jewish immigration to British Palestine. Ari's father and Uncle Akiva walk to the Promised Land from an Eastern European ghetto, but while Ari's father defends Israel as a soldier and diplomat, Akiva joins a group that bombs the King David Hotel. Ari, a captain in the British Army who is awarded the Military Cross, and who as a young man was in Germany to help Jews leave just before the outbreak of the Second World War, protests the British refusal to allow the Exodus to sail; he declares to the press, "I say the same thing to the Foreign Minister that a great man said to another oppressor three thousand years ago — LET MY PEOPLE GO." Uris presents his characters in relation to historical events in describing the reasons for an attempt "to resurrect a nation that has been dead for two thousand years."

Social Concerns

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The social history leading to the foundation of the modern state of Israel is the focus of Exodus. The story opens by giving the point of view of an American journalist; like this character, the reader becomes an observer of history unfolding. Exodus appeared in 1958, only a short time after the Holocaust. Uris spends a significant proportion of the novel describing how the Holocaust affects the lives of his major characters. In the work, children, who are concentration camp survivors detained in a British refugee camp on Cyprus, try to obtain permission to sail to what was then British Palestine, and is now Israel, on a boat named the Exodus. References to the Biblical Exodus recur in the novel, and as the children on the Exodus wait for permission to sail, an appeal to the British authorities is formulated in Biblical language: "Let my people go." Exodus aligns the Biblical Exodus, various historical episodes of anti-Semitism, Eastern European persecution of Jews, and the Nazi attempt to annihilate the Jewish people; these events are presented as the circumstances leading to the mid-twentieth century attempt to create an independent Israel.

Literary Precedents

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Exodus includes elements of the documentary and historical romance. The novel makes frequent use of historical detail, and careful use of chronology, but also includes elements closer to the world of literary romance; Ari tends to be unswervingly heroic, Kitty unimpeachably selfless and Karen flawlessly fair. Uris himself draws attention to the story of the Biblical Exodus, which in the novel serves as a precedent for the Jewish fight for freedom, although other precedents, such as the siege of Masada, also receive mention. Each section of the novel is prefaced by a Biblical quotation, and although the book of Exodus is the source of only one of these, the Biblical Exodus — which Passover commemorates, and the celebration of Passover is the final scene of the work — is the keynote of the novel.

Adaptations

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Exodus, a United Artists film, was shot on location in Cyprus and Israel. Dalton Trumbo wrote the screenplay; Otto Preminger was director and producer. Ari Ben Canaan is played by Paul Newman, and Kitty Fremont by Eva Marie Saint; the cast also includes Lee J. Cobb, Peter Lawford, Sal Mineo, and Ralph Richardson. Exodus is well over three hours long. The film was seen as attempting to reflect the inclusivity of the novel, and having a...

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strong emotional impact.The New York Times rated the film version of Exodus as one of the top-ten English language films of 1960: Exodus received praise for effective acting, was described as being a "massive drama of the fight to liberate Israel," and was summed up as being, if not flawless, "the best 'blockbuster' of the year."

Bibliography

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Cain, Kathleen S. Leon Uris: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. A comprehensive and detailed guide to Uris’s works, this volume includes biographical material, as well as critical pieces on his major novels. One chapter is devoted exclusively to Exodus. Also includes an extensive bibliography and appendices.

Geismar, Maxwell. “Epic of Israel.” Review of Exodus, by Leon Uris. Saturday Review 41 (September 27, 1958): 22. A prominent contemporary review.

Haas, V. P. Review of Exodus, by Leon Uris. Chicago Sunday Tribune, September 28, 1958, p. 3. An interesting if brief discussion.

Shatzky, Joel, and Michael Taub, eds. Contemporary Jewish-American Novelists: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. Includes an entry on Uris’s life, major works and themes, an overview of his critical reception and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

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Critical Essays