Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 487
The main character and narrator of the text is Phillip Roth. He tells the story as a first-person objective narrator, looking back on the events he narrates as an adult. The Roth family lives in Newark, New Jersey, in a primarily Jewish neighborhood, and the two Roth sons attend a predominantly Jewish school. Phillip is a little nervous, quite smart, eager to please, and very much aware of the concerns his parents feel when Charles Lindbergh is elected president.
Sanford "Sandy" Roth
Phillip's older brother, Sanford, whom he calls Sandy, is just about five years older than he. Sandy is enrolled by his maternal aunt, Aunt Evelyn, in a program that relocates Jewish boys. He is sent away for the summer to work on a farm with a Christian family in Kentucky, and, when he returns, he is somewhat haughty and overbearing. He has come to believe that his father and other Jews like him are being paranoid about the Lindbergh administration. Sandy also has a great deal of talent as an artist, and he draws frequently.
Herman and Bess Roth
Phillip and Sandy's parents, Herman and Bess, are a couple in their late thirties when the novel opens. Herman is an insurance salesman. They are staunch Democrats who very much support FDR in his run for a third term as president. Herman, especially, is incredibly vocal about the discrimination he and his family face on account of their being Jewish.
Alvin Roth, Herman's nephew, comes to live with them for a while after his parents die, and Herman and Bess try to curb his rebellious behavior and bring him in line. Alvin eventually runs away to Canada so that he can enlist in the war; he returns, missing a leg, and spends more time convalescing at the Roths' home. Eventually, he runs away from them and starts a new life. When he returns, years-old anger erupts and he and Herman end up in a physical fight.
Phillip also has an Uncle Monty, his father's brother, for whom Herman goes to work when he quits his job at the insurance company (in order to avoid the entire family being forcibly relocated). Uncle Monty is loud and rude, and the Roths generally just put up with him for family's sake. His Aunt Evelyn, his mother's sister and a former substitute teacher, marries the famous Rabbi Bengelsdorf and becomes complicit in Lindbergh's attempts to subdue the Jewish population and eliminate their solidarity.
Seldon and Mrs. Wishnow
There are also Seldon Wishnow and his mother, who live downstairs. Seldon irritates Phillip, and Phillip inadvertently gets Seldon and his mother relocated to Kentucky. Mrs. Wishnow is then killed, and Seldon returns near the end of the text to live with the Roths. After the Wishnows move to Kentucky, the Cucuzza family moves in, and Mr. Cucuzza is especially eager to help the Roths remain safe.
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(The entire section contains 761 words.)
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