Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Newark. New Jersey city in which Portnoy grows up. At the time he is born, his family lives in Jersey City in a building inhabited entirely by Jews but surrounded by non-Jews whom Portnoy’s parents view as anti-Semitic. Just before World War II, at the urging of Portnoy’s uncle, the family moves into what they consider the much safer environment of Newark, in the almost entirely Jewish Weequahic neighborhood, where Roth himself grew up. There, Portnoy, like Roth, attends the almost entirely Jewish Weequahic High School and eventually feels suffocated by his family, especially his mother, as well as by the Jewishness of the milieu in which he lives.


*Manhattan. New York City borough, across the Hudson River from Newark, to which Portnoy moves after finishing college. New York’s mayor appoints him assistant commissioner for the city’s Commission on Human Opportunity. To Portnoy, Manhattan represents an opportunity to escape from his Newark past, to escape his family, and to live his own life. Part of the escape from Jewish Newark involves a series of affairs he has with non-Jewish women, beginning in college and culminating in an affair with a woman he calls the Monkey, whom he meets as she enters a taxicab in front of his Manhattan apartment. In his sexual escapades with her, he seeks a complete escape from the Jewishness of his childhood that he associates with the Weequahic neighborhood. Nevertheless, the area in and around Manhattan...

(The entire section is 620 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Portnoy's Complaint combines fact and fiction to expose occurrences of everyday life in great detail. A brilliant exploitation of the...

(The entire section is 84 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although conflict and repression underscore Roth's principal theses in Portnoy's Complaint, a critical debate may arise as to the...

(The entire section is 340 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The main character of Portnoy's Complaint follows the footsteps of Joyce's Dedalus. In this novel of consciousness and...

(The entire section is 91 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Rothian characters are basically of the same ethnic background so they relate to each other easily. For instance Neil Klugman of...

(The entire section is 85 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Portnoy's Complaint was made into a motion picture in 1972. The film was produced by Ernest Lehman, directed by Philip Lathrop,...

(The entire section is 51 words.)


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Cohen, Sarah Blacher. “Philip Roth’s Would-Be Patriarchs and Their Shikses and Shrews.” Studies in American Jewish Literature 1 (Spring, 1975): 16-23. Reprinted in Critical Essays on Philip Roth, edited by Sanford Pinsker. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982. About the women in several of Roth’s novels, including Portnoy’s Complaint. Roth’s “petulant” young men typically blame their “Yiddishe mommes” for their problems and powerlessness.

Grebstein, Sheldon. “The Comic Anatomy of Portnoy’s Complaint.” In Comic Relief: Humor in Contemporary American Literature, edited by Sarah Blacher Cohen. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978. An excellent essay on Roth’s “stand-up” humor, as developed from professional comedians such as Henny Youngman and others.

Guttmann, Allen. The Jewish Writer in America: Assimilation and the Crisis of Identity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971. Contains an essay, “Philip Roth and the Rabbis,” that shows Roth’s sensitivity to the problems of assimilation in America.

Halio, Jay L. Philip Roth Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1992. The chapter “The Comedy of Excess” treats various aspects of Roth’s comic mastery in Portnoy’s Complaint. It also comments on the underlying humanity of Mary Jane Reed, the Monkey, as Portnoy, who fails to recognize her humanity, derisively nicknames her.

Spacks, Patricia Meyer. “About Portnoy.” The Yale Review 58 (Summer, 1969): 623-635. Mainly about Roth’s linguistic virtuosity in Portnoy’s Complaint.