Sunday, October 16, 2011

Nathanael West (October 17, 1903)

"In West, Jewishness is subtext or invisible." * Critics dispute the Jewishness of various themes and characters in West's novels (except for the antisemitic portrayals he sometimes produced). He changed his name and hid his Russian-Jewish immigrant background.

Miss Lonelyhearts is a novel about the writer of a newspaper advice column. The Day of the Locust is about Hollywood and the movie industry. To find a Jewish consciousness in West, some critics point out that Jews were involved in writing advice columns (Abraham Cahan's Bintel Brief...) and in running Hollywood. This is the kind of overinterpretation that I think of as wishful thinking.

I enjoyed these novels. However, I'm interested in the potential influence of his background on West even if he reacted by changing his name and becoming an antisemite. He's claimed as an American Jewish writer. I'm not sure what that means in his case.

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