Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Oz has said that “one should present the great and simple things, like desire and death,” in fiction writing, and My Michael follows that statement in its treatment of Hannah and the Israeli culture in which she is immersed. While on the surface My Michael deals with the mundane details of middle-class life in postwar Jerusalem and the disintegrating marriage of a disillusioned young woman, Hannah’s experiences clearly become a metaphor for the dualistic lives many contemporary Israelis feel compelled to lead. Several American critics have thus read it as an Israeli version of Madame Bovary, the elaborate depiction of a private life amid great social turmoil. Read as such, My Michael is one of the more remarkable evocations of a protagonist’s psychological disintegration in contemporary literature.

Still, it is important to point out that Oz’s characters rarely escape a close identification with their environment, and in My Michael the problems of Hannah and Michael are clearly interwoven with the heterogeneity of Jerusalem. During one early encounter with Michael, Hannah observes, “Maybe it’s a pity that Jerusalem is such a small city that you can’t get lost in it.” The reader presumes this to mean that one can never escape Jerusalem’s paradoxes and tensions; one either learns to live with them or chooses to merge with them. As the critic Hana Wirth-Nesher has remarked, “It is clear that...

(The entire section is 442 words.)