Editor’s note: Jeanne-Rose Arn wrote this paper while she was an LL.M. student at HLS for a course called “The Fiction and Biography of Philip Roth: A Meditation on American Identity.” We present it here.
Goodbye, Columbus is a story about assimilation and about social ascension. But perhaps more importantly it is an initiation novella, in which, of course, Neil’s initiation relates to his assimilation and to his ascension. The story draws a circle, in a short period of time, from the moment he starts trying to be more assimilated, willing to defy his Jewish identity, to the moment he returns to his identity: “what was it inside me that had turned pursuit and clutching into love, and then turned it inside out again? What was it that had turned winning into losing, and losing – who knows – into winning?” (p. 135) The novella takes place during one summer; Neil is 23, he meets his first love, and he is confronted – maybe for the first time – to the real struggling life. It is a transitory summer of questioning, of experiences – an accelerated process of assimilation, during which everything happens “very fast” (p. 17) until he closes the circle.