Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Kugelmass Episode” is a very amusing story, and its humor is that of a network of incongruities. There is a striking disparity between anxious, balding Kugelmass and the glamorous life that he would lead. The reader laughs at his pretensions and groans for his frailties. Kugelmass is yet another version of the distinctive Allen persona, familiar from other stories and from Allen’s film roles. He is a contemporary American reincarnation of the Yiddish schlemiel figure: the hapless man who, according to the Yiddish proverb, falls on his back and breaks his nose. Though Sidney Kugelmass, whose very name ludicrously undercuts his romantic aspirations, has failed at everything, including freshman English, he naïvely keeps returning for more.

After Emma and Kugelmass exchange their first remarks, the reader is told, “She spoke in the same fine English translation as the paperback.” By the end of the relationship, Emma is complaining to Kugelmass that “watching TV all day is the pits.” Much of the humor in this story results from juxtaposing the florid style of a literary classic—about a woman steeped in literary rhetoric—with the casual vernacular of a modern, irreverent New Yorker. Kugelmass holds a respected social position and is in awe of Emma Bovary, but his speech is laced with outdated proletarian slang: “sock it to me,” “scam,” and “jitterbug.” His streetwise talk is as affected as are provincial Emma’s aristocratic...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

New York City, Comedy, and the Jewish American Experience
The first Jews to settle in North America arrived in New York City,...

(The entire section is 829 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

‘‘The Kugelmass Episode’’ uses humor and comic situations to poke fun at people and situations and to show...

(The entire section is 553 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1970s: There are approximately 5.5 million Jews living in the United States, of which about 1.2 million live in New York City. Jews...

(The entire section is 163 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Research the terms satire, farce, parody, irony, spoof, and send-up. What are the differences...

(The entire section is 219 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

The Audio CD Fierce Pajamas: Selections from an Anthology of Humor Writing from the New Yorker, a recording of the collection edited...

(The entire section is 120 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Madame Bovary (1857), by Gustave Flaubert, the novel in which Kugelmass gets projected, is the story of a young wife of a country...

(The entire section is 210 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

Champion, Laurie, ‘‘Allen’s ‘The Kugelmass Episode,’’’ in Explicator, Vol. 51, No. 1, Fall 1992, pp. 61–63.

Harty, John, ‘‘Allen’s ‘The Kugelmass Episode,’’’ in Explicator, Vol. 46, No. 3, Spring 1988, pp. 50–51.

Further Reading
Abramovitch, Ilana, and Sean Galvin, eds., Jews of Brooklyn, University Press of New England, 2001. This is a kaleidoscopic look at the history, culture, and community of Brooklyn’s Jews, from the first documented settlement of Jews in the borough in the 1830s to the present day Jewish presence.

Bakalar, Nick, and Stephen Kock, eds., American Satire: An Anthology of Writings from Colonial Times to the Present, Plume Books, 1997. This collection brings together some of the best American satirical prose and poetry, from the 1800s to the late twentieth century.

Epstein, Lawrence, The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, Public Affairs, 2002. This history of how Jewish comedians changed the face of American entertainment, from vaudeville to the movies to television, includes anecdotes, personal stories, samples from comedians’ stand-up material, immigrant sociology, and details tying the Yiddish language to Jewish American humor.

Lax, Eric, Woody Allen: A Biography, Da Capo Press, 2000. Allen’s friend Lax offers a lighthearted account that includes the filmmaker’s own opinions about this life.