Philip Roth Additional Biography


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Born in the Weequahic section of Newark, New Jersey, on March 19, 1933, Philip Roth learned very early what it was like to grow up Jewish in a lower-middle-class neighborhood of a large metropolitan area. His parents were Beth Finkel Roth and Herman Roth; his father was a salesman for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. After he graduated from Weequahic High School in 1950, Roth worked for a while at the Newark Public Library and attended Newark College of Rutgers University. A year later, he transferred to Bucknell University. Although the family could ill afford the expense of a private college, Herman Roth determined that if his son wanted to go there, he would go. At Bucknell, Roth began writing stories and edited the school’s literary magazine. He also had his first love affairs, from which he drew incidents (fictionally transformed) for his subsequent novels. He received his B.A. in English, magna cum laude, in 1954, and he accepted a teaching fellowship at the University of Chicago for graduate work in English.

After receiving his M.A. in English from Chicago, Roth enlisted in the U.S. Army, but a back injury suffered during basic training resulted in an early discharge. He returned to Chicago to pursue doctoral studies in English and continued writing short stories; he had begun to get stories published as early as the fall of 1954 in small literary journals such as the Chicago Review and Epoch. Several of his stories were...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Philip Roth’s youth in a largely Jewish neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey, established his first subject: the ambivalence felt by American Jews on facing assimilation into American culture, which entails the loss of much, possibly all, of their distinctive Jewishness. Roth grew up in a middle-class home where, he writes, “the Jewish family was an inviolate haven against every form of menace, from personal isolation to gentile hostility.” Roth has been unwilling, however, simply to depict the Jewish family as a haven. His inclination to challenge Jewish American propriety and his extravagant comic imagination have won for him a controversial place in American letters. After an education at Bucknell University and the University of Chicago, Roth earned with the publication of Goodbye, Columbus, and Five Short Stories the National Book Award and condemnation as an anti-Semite by some Jewish leaders.

Roth’s tendency to use details from his life in his fiction has invited misinterpretations of his work as autobiography. An unhappy and short-lived marriage to Margaret Martinson, for example, was translated by Roth into My Life as a Man, in which Margaret’s fictional surrogate attracts and devastates the protagonist in part because she is not Jewish. Roth’s second wife, the Jewish actress Claire Bloom, may have provided in her English background a context for Roth’s alter ego, the writer Nathan Zuckerman, to explore his identity as a Jew in The Counterlife, in which Zuckerman becomes involved with a Christian Englishwoman. A suicidal breakdown in 1987, caused by medication prescribed for Roth after minor surgery, appears undisguised in Operation Shylock: A Confession, a probing quest for cultural and personal identity.

Roth’s writing can be seen in stages, from the early realist fiction, to the discovery of his comic voice in Portnoy’s Complaint, to the mid-career novels featuring Jewish writer-protagonists, to the works of the late 1980’s and 1990’s that either overtly recount Roth’s past or collapse the distinction between fiction and reality. Throughout, however, the thread that weaves the work together is Roth’s interest in exploring and exposing the Jewish American self.


(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Early Life

Roth was born into a lower-middle-class Jewish family, and his memories of the social stratification of his home have found their way into his fiction. He attended Rutgers University and in 1954 received his bachelor’s degree from Bucknell University and the next year his master’s degree from the University of Chicago. From 1956 to 1957, he studied at the University of Chicago, and some of those experiences were transformed into his second novel, Letting Go (1962). His writing career began with the publication of Goodbye, Columbus (1959), a novella and five stories, that won him a number of awards and signaled the emergence of a new, compelling voice in American letters.


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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Along with Bernard Malamud and Saul Bellow, Philip Milton Roth is one of the most prominent of the American Jewish novelists who emerged after World War II. Most of his fiction focuses on figures who are recognizably second-or third-generation Jews struggling to come to terms with the attractions and repulsions of life in the United States. Roth was born in Newark, New Jersey, on March 19, 1933, and grew up in a lower-middle-class Jewish section of the city. His father was an insurance salesman and his mother a homemaker. After one year at Newark College, Rutgers University, Roth transferred to Bucknell University, in rural Pennsylvania, where he edited the literary magazine and received a B.A. in English, magna cum laude, in 1954....

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(Short Stories for Students)

Philip Roth was born on March 19, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey, into a lower-middle-class Jewish family. He attended Rutgers University in...

(The entire section is 348 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

Roth was born in Newark, New Jersey, on March 19, 1933, into a working-class Jewish family. He attended Rutgers University (1950–1951),...

(The entire section is 311 words.)


(Novels for Students)

One of America’s leading novelists of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, Philip Roth explores the conflicts and...

(The entire section is 417 words.)