Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 584
Nathan Zuckerman, an established Jewish novelist. He recalls a visit, twenty years earlier, to the home of a famous older writer. At the age of twenty-three, Zuckerman was serious about his work and longed for the kind of reclusive life devoted to his craft that his mentor E. I. Lonoff was leading in the Berkshires. As is characteristic of people in his chosen profession, Zuckerman lives more in a life of fantasy than in reality. He quarreled with his own father, who objected to a story by Zuckerman that was not flattering to Jews, and he goes to visit Lonoff to find sanction from a literary father. The most significant fantasy in which Zuckerman engages while at Lonoff’s home occurs when he meets a mysterious young woman, Amy Bellette, whom he fantasizes is Anne Frank, the girl who became famous posthumously as a result of her diary about her experiences while in hiding, with her family, from the Nazis during World War II.
E. I. Lonoff
E. I. Lonoff, who is described by Zuckerman as the most famous literary ascetic in America. Lonoff has little time for anyone or anything but his writing. At the age of fifty-six, he has the devotion to his craft of Henry James, the mysterious seclusion of J. D. Salinger, and the perceptive awareness of Jewish experience of Bernard Malamud or Isaac Bashevis Singer. Nothing ever happens to him, he says; his life consists of “turning sentences around,” and he considers anything else a waste of time.
Hope Lonoff, the famous writer’s neglected wife. Not a master of renunciation like her husband, Hope is starved for love and attention. She has spent the thirty-five years of her married life primarily trying to keep quiet and out of Lonoff’s way as he pursues his religion of art. Primarily, says Zuckerman, she has the obedient air of an aging geisha. Helplessly, she watches as one of Lonoff’s former students, Amy Bellette, tries to persuade him to leave for Europe with her. Finally tiring of what she calls Lonoff’s rejection of life, she packs her bags at the end of the story and leaves.
Amy Bellette, a mysterious and beautiful young Jewish immigrant. Because all that is known of Amy Bellette is what Zuckerman tells the reader, and because he has created such a significant fantasy life, it is difficult to say exactly who she is. It is known that she emigrated from England to become one of Lonoff’s students at a local college. She now works for the Harvard Library, which is trying to persuade Lonoff to donate his manuscripts to its archives. The fantasy that Zuckerman makes up about her—that she is really Anne Frank and that he wishes to marry her to exonerate himself from the accusations of his father that he is indifferent to Jewish survival—is by far the most interesting aspect of her character.
Victor Zuckerman, Nathan’s father, a podiatrist. “Doc” Zuckerman strongly objects to the image of the Jewish people he sees in Nathan’s first short story. He claims that non-Jews will not perceive it as art but only as a story about “kikes.”
Leopold Wapter, a prominent Jewish leader in Newark, New Jersey. At the request of Nathan’s father, Judge Wapter writes Nathan a long letter expressing his objections to his story and urging him to see the play The Diary of Anne Frank.
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