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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

14. Becoming Visible

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
•  Timeline
•  Activities
- Overview Questions
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Activities: Author Activities

Philip Roth - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: "Defender of the Faith" is a story about rules and loyalties-to country, to personal heritage, to friends and pseudo-friends. Is the story a situation comedy; that is, is it a story with a stock setting, stereotypical characters, a recurring motif, running jokes, and catchphrases? How would you describe its tone?

  2. Comprehension: In "Defender of the Faith," what experiences and ethics separate Grossbart and Marx? What brings them together? Does Grossbart get what he deserves? Which side of Marx makes the decision-the soldier or the American Jew? Or do both sides of Marx participate in what he eventually decides to do?

  3. Context: In "Defender of the Faith," why might Roth name the narrator and major character Marx? What jokes or ironies are implied by that choice? What Marxes are familiar to Roth's readers, and how does the story invoke or play with those namesakes?

  4. Context: How does the issue of assimilation play into "Defender of the Faith"? What stance does Roth take on assimilation as opposed to hanging onto one's roots, customs, and backgrounds? Why is it hard to tell?

  5. Exploration: Some critics have noted that a number of Jewish writers create stories that demonstrate ordinary people attempting to control their fates, even in a world that seems absurd and uncertain. Simply by making this attempt, whether they are successful or unsuccessful, they succeed. Is this a characteristic only of Jewish writers? Can you think of other works in this unit that illustrate this idea? What about other works from any of the units of American Passages?

  6. Exploration: Guilt seems to play a large role in the canon of American literature. What other works focus on guilt? Where does this guilt come from? Are Americans just a guilty people? Of what are they guilty?

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