Places Discussed


*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...

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Literary Techniques

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

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

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

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

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

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(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...

(The entire section is 218 words.)