Cynthia Ozick

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 474

The Goy is an enterprise which, it seems to me, not only makes large claims for itself, but lays large claims on our attention and our inquiries.

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One of these inquiries ought to go to the metamorphosis of the novelist himself: how does it come about that the author of baseball novels, a writer whose fiction has up to now engaged in what must be called WASP impersonation, suddenly bursts out with a book about the nature of the Jewish mind? Is it that something has happened inside Mark Harris, or inside America?….

What makes The Goy untouchable, particularly for critics, is that it is an attack on that very Gentile culture—the literature of "humanism"—which produces literary critics. Worse yet, it is an attack on the complex of historical and social attitudes that make up the Gentile mind itself—or call it, more definitively, the Christian mentality. It is this mentality, in its most secularized and liberalized forms, at its apparent pinnacle of clarity and effectiveness, that The Goy is out to get. (p. 104)

The burden of The Goy is that Westrum is the country; that like Westrum the country is a lie and a deception, that moral indifference is endemic, and cannot be introspected away; is in fact increased by intellectual application. Ultimately this is a novel … about its own apparent premise—which is to say, the premise tested, contradicted, traduced: the goy doesn't change his spots, even in America. It is a rough, supple, and ingeniously scouted book, as cruel and precise as its title: if goy has become a Yiddishism signifying roughneck and persecutor, it is also the Hebrew word which designates a nation, any nation, including the Jews. At bottom The Goy is not an exploration of the character of "the goyim," or even of the character of America; it is a novel about the imperatives of Jewish character, defined not by what is "Jewish," but by what is incontrovertibly not…. What makes The Goy provocative in its despair is Harris's willingness to extend the case beyond Europe to the good goyim of America—to those Puritan consciences, emancipated intellectuals, liberal academicians, liberated allies, friends, wives, husbands, and half-Jewish children of Jews.

And what makes The Goy finally such an extremely curious book—a curio, in fact—is that it reflects with static precision a mentality we had thought America—and certainly the advent of Israel—had at last wiped out: what the shtetl used to call "fear of the goy." Perhaps this is what has put off the goyim—those Gentile critics who are in fact genuine emancipated intellectuals and liberal allies. It is in the nature of good will to shun those who suspect it of ill. (p. 108)

Cynthia Ozick, "Jews & Gentiles," in Commentary (reprinted by permission; all rights reserved), Vol. 51, No. 6, June, 1971, pp. 104-08.

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