Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In The Great American Novel, Roth uses the method of the satirist to explore two widely diverse subjects: the nature of American society and the nature of fiction, particularly American fiction.

Beneath the comic scenario, the book presents a no-nonsense look at the American Dream: It examines what makes America what it is, and how it got to be that way. Stereotypes, some of them ugly, are poignant reminders that America has achieved its place of eminence in the world at the expense of individuals and groups who have been made to suffer for their race, creed, appearance, or political beliefs. Roth capitalizes on the notion that baseball is America’s national pastime, and that American life is mirrored in its sport. As great satirists often do, he takes such metaphoric language literally and constructs his novel on the premise that not only is baseball inextricably intertwined with the country of its birth, but the future of the country is also linked to the health of the national sport. Hence, the real subject of this novel is America itself and the values which Americans hold dearest.

The rules that govern the game of baseball become a metaphor for the rules of American living. Situations occurring in the world of sport are intended to suggest activities that affect the status of the nation as a whole. Thus, individual prejudices, institutional discrimination and favoritism, individual and team attitudes toward such things as winning, fair play, dignity, and spectacle all serve to do more in this novel than merely give insight into the way baseball exists in America. There is constant interplay between the world of sport and the world of politics. Set during the war years, the novel offers insight into the serious way in which Americans regard their sport and suggests that sport is no mere diversion from what may be deemed by some to be the more important matters of life. Indeed, baseball is presented as America’s...

(The entire section is 798 words.)