Indignation by Philip Roth

By Philip Roth
Genre: Literary Fiction
Buy Now This book is on reading list for March 2014

1. In 1963, Philip Roth wrote an expansive essay in Commentary Magazine entitled, “Writing About Jews.” In it, he examines the importance of fiction and states: Fiction is not written to affirm the principles and beliefs that everyone seems to hold, nor does it guarantee us of the appropriateness of our feelings. The world of fiction, in fact, frees us from the circumscriptions that the society places upon feelings; one of the greatnesses of of the art is that it allows both the writer and the reader to respond to experience in ways not always available in day to day conduct; or if they are available, they are not possible, or manageable, or legal, or advisable, or even necessary to the business of living.  We may not even know that we have such a range of feelings and responses until we come into contact with the work of fiction.

What feelings do we experience through the connection with the characters in Indignation?

2. Why in Indignation does Roth choose to write about innocent Marcus Messner, whose life will be cut down just as it really begins to get started? What different quality and possibility for human existence has Roth portrayed here?

3. How sudden is Mr. Messner’s inordinate preoccupation with the safety of his son? Is it a product of the looming possibility of Marcus’s having to serve as a rifleman in the Korean War, or is there something larger, internal or external, threatening the butcher’s mental health?

4.  Is it only Korea one thinks about when reading Indignation, or is Roth also conveying something about war in general?

5. Olivia Hudson is extremely reluctant to talk about her family, particularly her relationship with her doctor father. Is there anything provided by the author that enables you to understand her reluctance? In any case, what do you think caused an apparent rift between them?

6. Discuss Marcus’s encounters with his roommates and the Dean? Does he suffer from antisocial behavior? Is he a victim of circumstance? Or, is he unable to interpret an environment beyond Newark?

7. At one point Marcus makes an incisive and telling comparison between his professors at Robert Treat College in Newark and those he encounters at Winesburg. What are the salient differences between the two groups and of what significance is this to Marcus, and to what Roth is saying here and perhaps throughout the novel?

8. Marcus’s mother and father are Jewish and he was raised within a loving, nurturing context of Jewish culture. His first sexual encounter and budding infatuation, however, is with a Gentile woman; he rejects an offer to join a Jewish fraternity; and he declares that he is an atheist a la Bertrand Russell. What, if anything, makes Marcus Jewish?


(Some questions adapted from The Jewish Reader)    




Be the first to comment on to “Indignation by Philip Roth”

Join the Discussion