Themes and Meanings
Ruth Puttermesser is Cynthia Ozick’s protagonist in two earlier stories: “Puttermesser: Her Work History, Her Ancestry, Her Afterlife” and “Puttermesser and Xanthippe.” In these stories, at the ages of thirty-four and forty-six, Ruth attempts, through fantasy, to create a significant role for herself in a world of values that she has created from literary sources. For example, she envisions William Blake’s mercy, pity, peace, and love reigning in New York, and she sees the Brooklyn Bridge as the harp that Hart Crane called it. In both stories, Ruth is returned to the limited and unpromising world of actuality. Ozick, through these and other stories and essays, has established herself as a writer whose themes depend in part on a sense of intertextuality with literature and history. Also related is her earlier story “Levitation,” in which a married couple, both writers, think of themselves as being like Eliot and Lewes, but their mental limitations and self-focus make the comparison ironic.
Similarly, Rupert the reductionist, who recognizes that his talent is only postcard-size, is an ironic impersonator, re-creating fully neither the art he copies nor the historical Lewes or Cross. As Ruth recognizes briefly, he shrinks mastery, dwindling it to a size he can call his own. Insisting that he cares not for the dead and past, that he is the one who is alive, he is driven to diminish the power of great artworks into the four-by-six-inch cards...
(The entire section is 489 words.)