The great American novel (1973)

philip_roth_the_great_american_novelPhilip Roth, The great American novel (1973)

“Because their name isn’t Mundy anymore. It’s Muny, good old-fashioned dough! They have maligned the name-mangled it beyond repair! You are the true Mundys, boys, and not because it was the name of your robber-baron father, either! No, because it is short for Mundane! Meaning common, meaning ordinary-meaning the man in the street who’s fed up to here with the Mundy brothers […]. The Mundane, who do the dirty work of this world, their noses to the ground or the grounder, their tails to the whip, while the Mundy brothers stash it away in Fort Knox! Their name your name?”

The great American novel is a history of the American spirit. But the American spirit and the socio-economic structures that formalize it can take ridicule forms. In an attempt to reveal the true enemy of freedom, individualism and the American spirit embodying them, namely the unbalanced and injust extremes of capitalism, Roth turns the the all-American pastime for the metaphorical world that is threatened.

“‘In battle with the lie,’ said Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn, ‘art has always been victorious, always wins out, visibly, incontrovertibly for all!'”

The alliterations that Word Smith or Smitty uses can be interpreted as a symbol of the repetitions of history that show slight variations but invariably are reminiscent of the past. This universality that finds an expression in the art of writing makes Smitty into the great prophet of the American spirit, and thus ‘The great American novel’ itself the bible of the American way of life, at least as a metaphorical intention.

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