Critical Context

The novel Job is a transitional work in Roth’s career. In his earlier works, he was primarily concerned with establishing a homeland for the dispossessed, a cultural center in the autocratic world of post-World War I Central Europe. Later, he concentrated on problems of personal freedom and on combatting the racial hatred of totalitarian Nazism. In this work, Roth is at his most universal: Mendel is Everyman, only accidentally (or incidentally) Jewish. For that reason, Job has become the most enduring of his works; fifty years after Roth’s death, it is more widely read now than when it was originally published. Because of the simplicity of his style—a trait he shared with Hermann Hesse—and a minimalist quality of representing the complexities of life by sparse selection of telling details, he has been linked with the primitivists. The fairy-tale-like atmosphere created by this technique is perfectly suited to his transmutation of the most timeless of parables.

Job can hardly be considered a Jewish novel; yet it captures with great charm the essence of Jewish village life in turn-of-the-century Europe. This is almost incidental to the vision at the center of the story and the skill with which Roth creates a nearly perfect marriage of theme and style. The remarkable achievement of Job has led to a belated recognition of Roth’s other works, raising Roth to a secure place in the German literature of the early twentieth century.