Mark Twain once said, "The Jew has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him." What role has humor played in this fight? Students might be most familiar with Jewish humor from Seinfeld. Or perhaps they have seen some Woody Allen movies. It might be worthwhile to show clips of either. Then have the class brainstorm about Jewish stereotypes and list elements of this humor and what makes it distinctive from and similar to other types of humor.
Have your students discuss the manner in which Jews are sometimes portrayed in canonical literature, especially by non-Jewish writers. Common controversial literary renditions of Jewish characters might include Shakespeare's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Dickens's Fagin in Oliver Twist, Fitzgerald's Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby, and Hemingway's Robert Cohn in The Sun Also Rises. Then have your students compare these portrayals to Roth's characterizations. What similarities and differences do they see? How might Roth be playing off these other characterizations?
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