Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 485
Philip Roth's The Plot Against America is an alternative history text that asks the question, "What if Charles Lindbergh had won the 1940 presidential election instead of Franklin Roosevelt?" Lindbergh, who was seen as a German sympathizer at the time, attempts to assimilate the Jewish people into the American culture, causing problems that resonate across the country.
There are various themes that one can find throughout the novel. The themes of freedom, uncertainty, power, and family are strongly supported throughout the book.
Freedom is what America was built on, and it comes into question throughout the novel. Lindbergh's new Office of American Absorption encourages relocating Jewish families so that rather than living in small communities, they live throughout the country. Lindbergh believes this will help them to be seen as a part of the culture, and hopes it will dispel the rumblings of antisemitic feelings that were widespread in the 1940's. Jewish families fought back however they could, hoping to stay in their homes and communities. Lindbergh and his supporters thought that they would gain freedom by no longer feeling that they would be safe only by living in a group. These families felt their freedom was in flux and they needed to fight for their right to stay put.
Uncertainty is in the air for all Americans at the conclusion of any presidential election. A change in leadership brings about questions and concerns about what changes may come next and how they might affect everyday life. In the wake of Lindbergh's election, Jewish-Americans were fearful that their lives might be at risk if anti-Jewish rhetoric were to dominate the atmosphere. Once the assimilation efforts begin, families don't know where they'll be sent or if the new communities will accept them. Every day is filled with chance and fear.
Power dynamics are at the core of the issues between Lindbergh's faction and the general Jewish community. Lindbergh has grand plans for how to fix the country, but he does not pause to ask those effected for their thoughts on the matter. He wields his power and creates a new reality for the Jewish families. On the ground, in communities across the country, displaced Jewish families struggle for power with local antisemitic groups. Each faction wants to maintain the status quo, and fight for power for their own needs.
Family is at the heart of the struggles in the book. Within the Roth family, each member reacts differently to assimilation efforts, and the dynamic at home is affected. The Wishnow family is torn apart when Mrs. Wishnow is killed. The Lindbergh's child is kidnapped and President Lindbergh disappears, leaving his wife to put back together the pieces of the American government. The duality of family and the struggles of religion and political life come to a head in the novel where priorities constantly change and citizens are forced to identify as a part of only one group.
Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 353
As in other works of "alternative history," The Plot Against America has at its core the implicit theme that history is not an inevitable process and that there is no way of being certain that events had to have a given outcome. Philip Roth's novel is somewhat akin to Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here
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