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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
- James Baldwin
- Saul Bellow
- Gwendolyn Brooks
- Ralph Ellison
- Bernard Malamud
- Paule Marshall
- Arthur Miller
- N. Scott Momaday
- Grace Paley
- Philip Roth
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Philip Roth (b. 1933)

Current Photo of Philip Roth
[4764] Anonymous, Current Photo of Philip Roth (n.d.), courtesy of Nancy Crampton and Houghton Mifflin Publishing.

Philip Roth Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Philip Roth was born in Newark, New Jersey. His father was a struggling businessman for most of Roth's young life, and financial setbacks were not unusual for the family. Roth attended the Newark branch of Rutgers University for several years, then transferred to Bucknell University, from which he graduated in 1954. After earning an M.A. in English literature from the University of Chicago, he went on to teach there, as well as at the University of Iowa and Princeton University, among other schools. In 1959 he published Goodbye, Columbus, a collection of five stories and a novella that won the National Book Award for Fiction. Roth continued teaching during the 1960s and published two somewhat disappointing novels, Letting Go (1962) and When She Was Good (1967), both of which took him some distance from the topic of Jewish Americans and assimilation, which he had explored so effectively in Goodbye, Columbus.

In 1969, Roth re-emerged as an exciting writer with the publication of Portnoy's Complaint, an over-the-top exploration of Alexander Portnoy, a neurotic Jewish American male who struggles both to satisfy and be satisfied by the cultural, economic, and sexual demands of American society. After the success of Portnoy's Complaint, which challenged the generic boundaries of the bildungsroman, Roth composed novels of increasingly fantastical showmanship, among them Our Gang (1970) and The Breast (1971). In the late 1970s, he began publishing work that has brought him steady attention, respect, and awards. One of his most recent novels, The Human Stain (2000), takes up the subject famously found in the novels of Nella Larsen and James Weldon Johnson-that of a light-skinned African American who passes for white.

Roth has been a wanderer-in his upbringing, his various homes, and the subjects he has chosen for his fiction: suburban life, an American Jewish boyhood, the United States Army, baseball, love and marriage, the art and predicament of being an author. He can be funny and poignant about divided loyalties, about growing up and growing away from old neighborhoods and traditions, about friendship, duty, sex, and the mutual exploitation that can characterize a life in which art, business, and show business commingle.

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