Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1283
Philip Roth 1933-
(Full name Philip Milton Roth) American novelist, short story writer, essayist, autobiographer, and critic.
The following entry presents an overview of Roth's career through 2003. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 15, 22, 31, 47, 66, 86, and 119.
One of the most prominent and controversial writers in contemporary literature, Roth draws heavily upon his Jewish-American upbringing and his life as a successful author to explore such concerns as the search for self-identity, conflicts between traditional and contemporary moral values, and the relationship between fiction and reality. The scatological content of some of his works and his harsh satiric portraits of Jewish life have inspired considerable critical debate. While some commentators view his work as anti-Semitic, perverse, or self-indulgent, others laud Roth's skill at rendering dialect, his exuberance and inventiveness, and his outrageous sense of humor.
Roth was born in Newark, New Jersey. After graduating from Weequahic High School in 1950, he enrolled at Newark College of Rutgers University. He transferred to Bucknell University in Pennsylvania in 1951. There he published his first story, “Philosophy,” in the literary magazine Et cetera, which he helped to found and edit. Roth graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, earning a bachelor's degree in English in 1954. He received a master's degree in English from the University of Chicago in 1955 and served briefly in the United States Army but was discharged due to a back injury he sustained during basic training. Although he returned to study for his Ph.D. in English at the University of Chicago, Roth withdrew to pursue his writing career in 1957. With the aid of a grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship, and a Guggenheim fellowship, Roth was able to complete his first book, Goodbye, Columbus, and Five Short Stories (1959). He began teaching at the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1960, and in 1962 he became a writer-in-residence at Princeton University. Roth resigned to become a full-time author following the financial success of his third novel, Portnoy's Complaint (1969). With his provocative and well-regarded novels, he quickly established himself as one of America's best-known authors. He has received several prestigious awards for his work, including two PEN/Faulkner Awards for fiction, a Pulitzer Prize, several National Book Critics Circle Awards, and a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation in 2002.
Roth first garnered significant critical reaction with his first work, Goodbye, Columbus. In the acclaimed novella, which was adapted for film by Paramount in 1969, Roth satirizes American materialistic values by focusing on the conflicting emotions of Neil Klugman, a lower-middle-class Jewish man struggling to adjust to the unfamiliar lifestyle of Brenda Patimkin, a wealthy Jewish suburbanite with whom he falls in love. Roth is credited with propelling Jewish-American fiction into the realm of popular culture with Portnoy's Complaint. Originally appearing as a series of sketches in Esquire, Partisan Review, and New American Review, the novel takes the form of a profane, guilt-ridden confession related by Alexander Portnoy to a silent psychoanalyst, Dr. Spielvogel. Decrying his Jewish upbringing, Portnoy wrestles with his Oedipal complex, obsession with Gentile women, and sexual fetishes in an attempt to free himself from the restrictions of his cultural background. Following the book's publication, scholars and Jewish Americans labeled Roth an anti-Semitic Jew and objected to the novel's sexually explicit content and what they considered Roth's degrading...
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