THE HOLOCAUST AND RISE OF JEWISH AMERICAN FICTION Many critics agree that Jewish American fiction can be divided into three main phases during the twentieth century the first generation whose writing dealt more with the immigrant experience in the early decades of the twentieth century the second generation who succeeded in entering the mainstream of American literature in the sands and the third generation who did its best to defy the prediction of critics such as Irving Howe, who believed Jewish American literature was past its prime (Brauner Nevertheless, the fashioning or emergence of the phenomenon of the alleged Holocaust that dramatically affected not only the course of Jewish history but that of the world would be more accurate a touchstone for evaluating Jewish American fiction in the twentieth century. As David Brauner emphasizes, the Holocaust and the foundation of Israel. provide more meaningful lines of demarcation with which to divide Jewish American Writing than the slippery notion of generations (It is said that the number of Jewish population in America that had been 226,042 by 1887 reached 3,384,695 in 1920. The number of Jewish American writers who published fiction between 1900 and 1916, however, never went beyond 41 (Cronin and Berger xvi-xvii). Moreover, from 1900 to 1940 only one Jewish American fiction writer, Edna Ferber, managed to win a US literary award. This conveys the fact that during the years when American literature was experiencing a second apex in its history, pre-Holocaust Jewish American fiction was merely reflecting a periphery discourse that was of lesser importance compared to that of the dominant culture. By contrast, post-Holocaust Jewish American fiction established such a firm position within the mainstream of American letters that Martin Amis declared the twenti- eth-century novel belongs to. Jewish Americans (qtd. in Brauner 96). Although the 45 post-Holocaust Jewish American fiction writers had only four writers more than their pre-Holocaust counterparts, the number of their award winners rose surprisingly to It should not be considered a coincidence that Jewish American writing. reached a remarkable flowering right after 1945” (Ruland and Bradbury 375). The Holocaust publicity prepared the general mood in the Americans fora better acceptance and understanding of the Jews. Images of alleged Nazi concentration camps and stories of the suffering and deaths. were published soon after their liberation by allied forces and in the immediate aftermath of the war American press reported that millions of Jews had died in what would later be called the Holocaust To pick one example of many, as Yannella quotes, on 10 June 1945 New York Timescarried the headline, “80% of Reich Jews Murdered by Nazis As a result of this, There was considerable sympathy in the US for the surviving Jewish victims of the Holocaust and their destinies (This atmosphere, above all, paved the way for the Jews to alter the balance of power by taking up key positions. As one historian notes, In the s, most Jews had been employed as laborers or in low-level white-collar jobs, such as clerks and office help, but by the early s over 55 percent worked in professional or technical fields, or as managers, officials, and proprietors, compared to only 23 percent of the populace as a whole This is in the case that a decade and a half later, the percentage of Jews in white-collar jobs was nearly three times the national average, while only one Jew out of five worked in factories (qtd. in Hoberek 71). US. colleges and universities, too, admitted Jewish professors and students more than any other time. The following report narrates this critical climate: Quotas in major American universities that had previously limited the number of Jewish professors were lifted, and Jews filled departments of science, mathematics, and economics, among other fields. Even English departments, which had considered Jews an element foreign to the culture they were preserving, swelled with
36 IJALEL 8(6):34-42 Jewish academics, the new keepers of the grand Anglo literary tradition. (Goffman) These circumstances gave rise to a post-Holocaust popularity of Jewish American fiction, and helped Jewish names, including Isaac Bashevis Singer, Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, JD. Salinger, Grace Paley, Norman Mailer, Cynthia Ozick, and Philip Roth, just to name the most celebrated, reign American fiction of the sand 1960s. Jewish fiction writers of America, except few instances, like JD. Salinger, whose works are more American than Jewish, were preoccupied with their own Jewish concerns. Jewishness as a form of identity found afresh place in the post-Holocaust literary life. Although Jewish fiction had existed prior to the war, it was arguably always understood in terms other than its Jewishness the immigrant novel Abraham Cahan, Anzia Yezierska), the proletarian novel (Yezierska, Mike Gold, modernism (Henry Roth, Nathanael West (Hoberek 73). The alleged Holocaust reinforced the theme of Jewish identity more than any other time, but on the other hand it extensively helped the assimilation or neutralization, as some viewed it, of this ethnic group as well. Therefore, to be assimilated or not to be assimilated became the new question. Martin Halliwell in studying the slit- erary context refers to this new status: A variety of Jewish voices emerged in the s, but two impulses were dominant the first suggested that assimilation to mainstream American culture was a desirable option for many Jews, while the second revealed that other second and third generation American Jews were feeling dislocated from their past, particularly for families with relatives back in Europe living in the aftermath of the Holocaust. (This question did not resolve in the sand developed in the next decade. As Sharon Monteith mentions, The responsibility of the writer to his ethnic and racial group was becoming a subject ripe for debate in the s (103). Now it is time to see what stance Bernard Malamud took on this question.