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.)