The Plot Against America

by Philip Roth

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

One way in which we might analyze this novel is in the opportunity it provides Roth, the author, to show what a real hero looks like. Unlike Charles Lindbergh, the handsome aviator who performed daring feats, inspired a nation, and elicited the country's sympathy when his son was kidnapped, Herman Roth doesn't do anything death-defying. However, his actions have real meaning and he does inspire: he stands up against discrimination when he's faced with prejudice; he teaches his sons to question authority, to be respectful of those authorities who earn it, and to take care of others. For example, when his nephew, Alvin, needs a home and family, Herman provides it, despite Alvin's rebelliousness and behavioral challenges. Later, when Alvin returns from war, without one of his legs, Herman and his family bring him home and take care of him while he returns to health. When the family's former neighbor, Mrs. Wishnow, is murdered in Kentucky, Herman undertakes a 700-mile journey to fetch Seldon Wishnow, her son, and take him in.

Perhaps more subtly but no less heroically, Herman gives up a chance to make more money than he'd thought possible (with his eighth-grade education), turning down a promotion because it would mean moving his family to a new neighborhood that is populated by many individuals who are hostile to Jews. Moreover, when the government attempts to force Herman to relocate his family to Kentucky through his job, he leaves his position and takes a lower-paying job doing menial labor for his boorish brother, Monty. Some individuals might rank their personal ambition more highly, and some might be inclined to turn their noses up at a lower-status job, but Herman places his family's safety and integrity before everything else.

The text shows readers that heroes need not fly planes or run countries or make speeches. Heroes can be everyday people who stand up to injustice and name it; heroes can be people who selflessly take care of others when they need to be taken care of; heroes can be fathers who place the needs of their children before their own. Herman Roth proves to be an incredibly inspiring character who likely reminds many readers of someone in their own lives. For the record, a similar analysis could be done looking at Bess Roth, the narrator's mother and Herman's wife. Her character brings a grace and importance to the work in the home that so many women of her time did and many still do, and she likewise acheives a kind of heroism in the way she handles herself and manages her family during the difficult times depicted in the text.

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