Levitation Critical Essays

Cynthia Ozick


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In her fiction, Ozick’s central concerns are the conflict between Hebraism and Hellenism and the fear that the production of art is a breach of the Second Commandment’s prohibition against creating idols. Ozick is particularly harsh with those characters who abandon their Jewish identity in favor of pagan imagination, but she is also sensitive to the dangers of a personality that focuses on history and forgets to produce the future. With the exception of the essay “Freud’s Room,” Levitation: Five Fictions focuses particularly on women artists and the difficulties surrounding their efforts to create both identity and art.

In “Levitation,” the title story, the reader first believes that the author-couple are solidly united by their literary ambitions. Their main connection, however, is a rejection of their respective traditions. Feingold has chosen a non-Jewish wife, and Lucy abandons Christianity to convert to Judaism. Although this alliance seems superficially happy, both are dissatisfied by their secondary status as writers. Their minimal production, one book each, is reflected in the absence of their actual children, who are mentioned but never appear. During a party that the Feingolds give, Lucy’s visions make her realize that she is stifled by Jewish monotheism, and she chooses instead the goddesses of fertility, the Madonna and Astarte. Meanwhile, Feingold has joined the group of Jews who are repeating the stories of their shared history. Although the story ends without a resolution, it is Lucy’s failed conversion to Judaism that is most problematic: How will she proceed with her marriage and her art? How can Jewish history be reconciled with creativity? Ozick leaves these questions unanswered as she leaves the room of Jews suspended in the air.

In “Shots,” the dominant imagery emphasizes the sterility and...

(The entire section is 764 words.)