Last Updated on September 18, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 674
Imagine all that history.
Fidelman’s fascination with the Roman baths at the beginning of the story achieves two effects. Firstly, his sense of wonder at the richness of Roman history evokes an implicit parallel with his own heritage, one which just as rich in history as the classical civilization he...
(The entire section contains 674 words.)
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Imagine all that history.
Fidelman’s fascination with the Roman baths at the beginning of the story achieves two effects. Firstly, his sense of wonder at the richness of Roman history evokes an implicit parallel with his own heritage, one which just as rich in history as the classical civilization he now admires. Secondly, it demonstrates Fidelman’s blindness to the far more telling realities of recent history, namely the persecution of the Jewish people in Italy during World War II. As a scholar, he is more comfortable dealing with what is remote and theoretical than what is immediate and impactful.
My God, a handout for sure. My first hello in Rome and it has to be a schnorrer.
Here is revealed Fidelman’s insecurity as a Jewish person. While he responds with courtesy to the other man’s greeting, he is horrified that the Jewish identity he has sought to sublimate has been so easily recognized by another Jewish person. Due to his belief in the American ideal of self-sufficiency, he profoundly fears any notion of himself as part of a larger community or group, since such a notion would likely impose on him responsibilities and duties he does not want to honor.
Who doesn’t know Giotto.
Fidelman came to Rome with a sense of himself as superior to the likes of Susskind, a superiority based not only on his credentials as an art scholar but on all the facets of his identity, down to the richness of his dress and manner. The snobbery he feels toward Susskind is indicated by his assumption on first meeting him that the other man desires a handout. But here is made apparent the foolishness of judging intellect on the basis of appearance. Ironically, the art scholar, who is trained to see more than what is on the surface, is caught off balance by the fact that the subject of his study is well known to a man he had considered too low for high culture.
I refuse the obligation.
Fidelman's refusal to accept what Susskind is encouraging him to assume—responsibility to his fellow man—indicates his detachment, as an American, from the Jewish communities of Europe, which war had forced into closer and more insular cooperation. The roughness of his refusal is undermined somewhat by the increasing generosity with which he responds to Susskind’s requests. While he never grants him the suit, he offers him more and more money, and finally an overcoat to resolve what he believes to be a practical concern.
Is there no escape from him?
Fidelman’s efforts to escape from Susskind are symbolic of his efforts to escape his own Jewish identity. His failure to escape the former therefore indicates the impossibility of his ever escaping the latter.
We are not Italians.
The use of the collective “we” is comparable to the Hebrew greeting offered to Fidelman by Susskind at their first meeting, in that it constitutes an attempt by Susskind attempt to make Fidelman recognize their cultural ties. Fidelman’s sharp reply indicating a determination to eat his food how he sees fit indicates a continuing commitment to his individualistic worldview and a refusal to understand himself as having anything in common with Susskind, whom he still views as beneath him in terms of social class.
All is forgiven!
This final statement from Fidelman signifies that he has come to realize his Jewish identity at last, along with the responsibility he therefore has toward other Jews and human beings more generally. The fact that he is unsuccessful in compelling Susskind to stop and converse with him would seem to indicate, however, that certain questions remain to him—that while he has shaken off his former identity, he has not yet fully discovered his new one. The Fidelman at the story’s conclusion is therefore a man in transition, similar to how he was at the story’s beginning, when his new clothing and shoes signified his subconscious readiness to come to terms with new truths about himself.