Call It Sleep | Critical Essay by Sanford Pinsker

This literature criticism consists of approximately 18 pages of analysis & critique of Call It Sleep.
This section contains 5,306 words
(approx. 18 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Essay by Sanford Pinsker

SOURCE: "The Re-Awakening of Henry Roth's Call It Sleep," in Jewish Social Studies, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3, July, 1966, pp. 148-58.

In the following essay, Pinsker provides reasons that the themes contained in Roth's Call It Sleep were appropriate for rediscovery in the 1960s.

The events which lead to the re-discovery of a previously neglected novel are often as interesting as the conditions which precipitated its original obscurity. In a sense, the recent popularity of Call it Sleep is as much a tribute to critics like Alfred Kazin and Leslie Fiedler as it is a triumph for its author Henry Roth. To be sure, Call it Sleep is the same novel today that it was when it first appeared in 1934. What has changed, of course, is the way we tend to read the novel.

The history of Call it Sleep is not so much one of unconcern as it is of misunderstanding. The novel was first published in an era dominated by economic depression, social consciousness, and writers like William Faulkner, James T. Farrell and John Dos Passos. Nevertheless, Call it Sleep managed to go through two editions, sell about 4,000 copies, and collect a set of mildly impressive reviews before it slipped quietly into obscurity.

It was not until the publication of Professor Rideout's influential study, The Radical Novel in the United States (1956) that Call it Sleep was once again brought to the attention of American readers. In that same year, both Alfred Kazin and Leslie Fiedler mentioned the novel in a symposium which appeared in The American Scholar under the title, "The Most Neglected Books of the Past 25 Years." Since that time, the popularity of Call it Sleep has been growing rapidly. In 1960, the novel was finally re-published and, in 1964, it was issued in paperback edition.

If nothing else, the rather topsy-turvy business of Call it Sleep's popularity seems to suggest that there are other factors besides a lack of merit which may plunge a novel into obscurity. Novels are, after all, written at a particular time and they suffer all the disadvantages thereof. A "first-rate" novelist is very oten determined by the interests and competition of the age in which he happens to have written. For example, we seldom think of Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe as "second-rate" playwrights. However, if we compare them with Shakespeare, the results are painfully clear. This is not to imply, of course, that there is something terrible about being "second-rate." There are, after all, eighth- and ninth-rate authors too. My point is simply that everyone (with the exception of Shakespeare) was at least a "second-rater" during the Elizabethan period.

In the thirties, the really "first-rate" writers were the proletarian novelists who demonstrated a clear and direct social conscience. When we think of the literary scene of the thirties today, the name which looms the largest is certainly Faulkner's: other writers of the period tend to become a bit fuzzy. However, during the thirties themselves, authors like James T. Farrell and John Dos Passos were very much in the running. In a general way, what these authors were reacting against was the Joyce-Proust-Mann notion of putting a great deal of emphasis on the value of an "inner life." For a Farrell or a Dos Passos, the private dilemmas of sensitive souls were not nearly as interesting as where one lived or what job one's father had.

It is, therefore, only natural that Henry Roth's Call it Sleep should have been initially considered as simply one more of the many proletarian novels dealing with poverty-stricken Jews on New York's lower East Side. The novel most frequently compared with Call it Sleep was Michael Gold's Jews without Money (1930) and, as late as 1936, Professor Rideout still felt that the comparison was "an instructive one." According to Rideout, Call it Sleep is not only better than Jews without Money but it is, in fact, "the most distinguished single proletarian novel."

However, to say that Call it Sleep is about poverty on the East Side is to feel that Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is about Irish politics or Lawrence's Sons and Lovers is about coal mining. There were, of course, reviewers who were sympathetic enough to realize that Call it Sleep did not quite fit into the general category of a proletarian novel. As one reviewer commenting for The New Masses put it: "It is a pity that so many young writers drawn from the proletariat can make no better use of their working class experience than as material for instrospective and febrile novels." To be sure, the reviewer was unaware that his off-hand remark was anything more than a statement of dissatisfaction about the "unorthodox" way that novels were being written. However, the use of a "proletarian" milieu as a backdrop against which an "introspective" novel could be written is at the core of Call it Sleep. It is indeed ironic that such a novel should appear at a time when all literature was being read in such a social way. It is, I suppose, doubly ironic that the label of "proletarian novel" (which had originally drained the book of its distinctive character) was the very reason Rideout included it in The Radical Novel in the United States.

The current critical interest in Call it Sleep represents a kind of index to the shifting "hot centers" of literary expression. During the thirties, the Southern agrarians (headed by Faulkner and Co.) had successfully shifted attention from small towns in the Midwest to the post-bellum Southerner's tortured quest for identity. The problems of a George Willard, stifled by the lack of possibilities in Winesburg, Ohio (1919), began to look almost "trivial" when compared to those of a Quentin Compson in Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (1929).

After World War II, however, the center shifted once again. This time the "city" became the focus of literary attention and, with that shift, the American Jewish novelist finally came into his own. However, the popularity of the Jewish novel was the result of more than a mere change of locale. The Cold War quickly created a situation in which personal insecurity was the rule rather than the exception. The very size and increasing complexity of urban life gave rise to a feeling of mass identification on the one hand and the need for individual identity on the other. If the Jew had been the "outsider" or alienated one, now all men were Jews. Since it was the Jew who had the longest tradition in the psychodynamics of living on the edge, it was the Jewish novelist who emerged as the spokesman for an entire generation of Jews and non-Jews alike.

The re-discovery of a novel like Call it Sleep represents an attempt to discover a distinctly "American-Jewish" identity, by investigating the roots from which we came. Far more than the value of its immediate socio-economic message, the novel projects a world in David Schearl's unconscious which has become a shared condition by 1966. The family unit (treated with warmth in the Yiddish literature of the European ghetto) is now more riddled with the theories of Freud than the practices of writers like Sholom Aleichem. The world of urban New York presents economic opportunities unknown in the shtetl, but it also assumes Kafkaesque proportions. In this sense, David's nightmare world of 1934 is not far from the "reality" of our present condition. To be sure, contemporary readers of Call it Sleep may be drawn to the novel for the most nostalgic of reasons, but the book has more to say than such "reasons" suggest.

With the exception of a short Prologue, David Schearl is the novel's center of consciousness. However, even the Prologue sets the tone of alienation which is to plague David throughout the novel: "Only the small child in her arms (i.e. David) wore a distinctly foreign costume, an impression one got chiefly from the odd, outlandish, blue straw hat on his head with its polka dot ribbons of the same color dangling over each shoulder." David's "difference" (as symbolized by the "outlandish hat") brings out all of his father's latent paranoia: 'Can't you see that those idiots lying back there are watching us already? They're mocking us! What will the others do on the train? He looks like a clown in it. He's the cause of all this trouble any way!' In the next instant his father "scooped the hat from the child's head" and sent it "sailing over the ship's side to the green waters below." The act is heavy with the psychological symbolism and intensity which characterizes the novel. The symbolic castration which introduces David to both America and his father is quite possibly connected with the family name of "Schearl" or "little scissor" in Yiddish.

In fact, the entire Schearl family adheres (almost too perfectly to Freud's notion of what typical families tend to be: David "loves" the mother who will protect and comfort him in adversity and he "hates" the father who is a strict disciplinarian and unbending tyrant. Evidently Roth equated certain movements toward assimilation into American society with Oedipal tension not generally associated with ghetto culture. David's father, after all, had been in America for some time before his wife and son arrive. His hard-boiled cynicism is the result of "golden hopes" which have died only to be replaced by petty jealousies and a variety of psychological fears.

Roth portrays parental roles and emotions in a leitmotif of Freudian symbolism. David's mother is continually associated with flowers. When she chooses a picture, for example, it is "a small patch of ground full of tall, green stalks, at the foot of which, tiny blue flowers grew." David's father, on the other hand, is associated with cattle and, particularly, bulls. As if to compete with his wife's romantic penchant for "flowers," he finally places a pair of mounted cow's horns on the wall.

Although David is unable to articulate the meaning of these symbols, he is, nevertheless, unconsciously aware of their significance:

Somehow he couldn't quite believe that it was for memory's sake only that his father had bought the trophy. Somehow looking at the horns, guessing the enormous strength of the beast who must have owned them, there seemed to be another reason…. He sensed only that in the horns, in the poised power of them lay a threat, a challenge he must answer, he must meet. But he didn't know how.

The "challenge" is, of course, the inevitable conflict between a father and a son. Albert Schearl is not only an "authority figure" (there are many of those in the novel), but he is an authority figure of such magnitude that he nearly frightens David out of his wits. Albert is such a stern disciplinarian that he would rather beat his child than understand him. Those of us raised, as it were, "by Spock" may find this hard to swallow. However, if a really first-class rebellion requires a strong Victorian father, Albert certainly fits the bill.

David's mother also represents a "threat" of sorts, but of an entirely different variety. She is characterized by "kisses." In an early section of the novel, she teases him into giving her a kiss with the provocative question, "Whom will you refresh with the icy lips that the water lent you?" Because David's mother feels that "lips for me must always be cool as the water that wet them," David vows he will "eat some ice" so she will like his kisses even more.

However, if David measures his mother by kisses, he measures his father with multi-colored leaves: "He dragged a chair over beneath the calendar on the wall, clambered up, plucked off the outworn leaf, and fingered the remaining ones to see how far off the next red day was. Red days were Sundays, days his father was home. It always gave David a little qualm of dread to watch them draw near." There is no doubt that Albert Schearl is as frightening a character as David imagines him to be. When he loses a job, his excuse is always the same: "They look at me crookedly, with mockery in their eyes!" When David's mother once dared to suggest that such stares might possibly be only his imagination, "his father snarled then. And with one sudden sweep of his arm had sent food and dishes crashing to the floor…. He wouldn't speak. His jaws and even his joints seemed to have become fused together by a withering rage."

While David is justifiably afraid of his father, he also complains that "every boy on the street knew where his father worked" except himself because his father "had so many jobs." This is, indeed, a curious state of affairs for what critics had thought of as a "proletarian" novel. Albert Schearl's disagreeable disposition (he gets along with his fellow-workers no better than he does with his bosses) merely necessitates a number of job changes. Evidently there is no great problem about getting another job.

However, the change of jobs is often accompanied by a subsequent change of address. Therefore, David tends to live in a fluid community which denies stability at every turn. In Call it Sleep, the economic condition of the Schearls is of less importance than the Kafkaesque world in which they live. As David's mother so metaphorically points out, theirs is a ghetto founded upon the fear of what might exist beyond the bounds of the familiar:

"Boddeh Stritt," she resumed apologetically…. "It's such a strange name—bath street in German. But here I am. I know there is a church on a certain street to my left, the vegetable market is to my right, behind me are the railroad tracks and the broken rocks, and before me, a few blocks away is a certain store window that has a kind of white-wash on it—and faces in the white-wash, the kind children draw. Within this pale is my America, and if I ventured further I should be lost. In fact," she laughed, "were they even to wash that window, I might never find my way home again."

Of course the mother's fears are merely speculative. It is David, however, who actually experiences all the frightening aspects of being lost in a tangle of streets:

Which one was it which? Which one was—Long street. Long street, lot of wooden houses. On this side. Yes. Go through the other side. Then other corner…. Right away, right away. Be home right away…. This one?… Didn't look like…. Next one bet … house … giddyap, giddyap…. Corner coming, corner coming, corner—here?

"Mama!" The desolate wail split from his lips. "Mama!" The aloof houses rebuff his woe. "Mama!" his voice trailed off in anguished abandonment. And as if they had been waiting for a signal, the streets through his tear-blurred sight began stealthily to wheel. He could feel them turning under his feet, though never a house changed place—backward to forward, side to side—a sly inexorable carousel.

In Kafka, of course, the physical world tends to become a surrealistic abstraction which helps to carry the allegorical and philosophical aspects of his novels. Other writers, however, have picked up Kafka's notion of alienated terror and blended it into the fabric of a "realistic" novel.

To be sure, there is always a problem with terms like "realistic"; we have lived with the Kafkaesque absurd world for so long that we tend to think of his novels as being very "realistic" indeed. The Kafka novel very successfully portrays the naked anguish of modern man as he confronts the world around him. Although Kafka's descriptions of towns or castles are not likely to be confused with naturalism, the dilemmas of characters like Joseph K. strike us as very real indeed. In many respects, Henry Roth imposes such a world upon New York's East Side.

The authors who seem most interesting to us today are the ones who rejected the going beliefs in socio-economic ideologies and, instead, concentrated upon the naked anguish of man in conflict with himself. In this sense, Henry Roth is more akin to an author like Nathanael West than he is to a Michael Gold. Like West, Henry Roth creates characters whose suffering takes on universal dimensions.

But if Call it Sleep in involved with the nightmarish childhood of David Schearl, it is unusual that such a novel ends with the protagonist still a child. After all, a character like Stephen Daedalus had a great deal of difficulty in the early portions of Joyce's Portrait: he is continually being pushed into ditches by his classmates or punished unfairly by his teachers. However, Stephen really seldom suffers in his difference. If anything, he revels in it for an "artist" is supposed to have exactly this kind of childhood.

Call it Sleep, on the other hand, ends with David still only nine years old. He is certainly not ready to make the kind of "arty" proclamations that characterize the Stephen about to launch into a literary career nor is he old enough to join the Communist Party (one of the favorite ploys of the proletarian novelist). Instead of these rather "grand" gestures, David must face a variety of childhood initiations in his journey toward manhood.

One of the most memorable scenes in the novel centers around such an initiation experience. David is introduced to the world of sexuality via a childish "game" suggested by one of his slightly older playmates. The girl is a frightening grotesque who "nudged him gently" into a dark closet with "the iron slat of her brace." Terrified, David accepts her lips (a "muddy spot in vast darkness") and enters into the ritualistic business of playing "bad" for the first time:

"Yuh must ask me," she said. "G'wan ask me."


"Yuh must say, Yuh wanna play bad? Say it!"

He trembled. "Yuh wanna play bad?"

"Now you said it," she whispered, "Don' forget, you said it."

David is, thus, tricked into accepting a responsibility and a guilt that is really not his. Like Kafka, Roth is fond of presenting such traumatic scenes in settings which suggest claustrophobia. Throughout Call it Sleep, the sexual experience is associated with dark, close places such as the closet mentioned above or toilets located in dingy cellars.

However, Roth adds still another dimension to such scenes by his peculiar use of language. As I have already suggested, the sexual confrontation between the innocent David and the more experienced (and perhaps symbolically "crippled") girl is a frightening one. And yet, Roth fills the crucial dialogue with such incongruous terminology that the effect is not only "childish," but almost humorous:

"Yuh know w'ea babies comm from?"


"From de knish."


"Between de legs. Who puts id in is de poppa. De poppa's god de petzel. Yaw de poppa." She giggled stealthily and took his hand. He could feel her guiding it under her dress, then through a pocket-like flap. Her skin was under his palm. Revolted, he drew back.

The effect which Roth achieved in this scene has become almost a standard one today. Authors like Joseph Heller (Catch-22), Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and Thomas Pynchon (V) mix humor and horror in such rapid succession that the result is a new genre of the absurd. In many respects, the revival of interest in Nathanael West and (now) Henry Roth is due, at least in part, to a search by these contemporary authors and their critics for various literary authorities.

Of course sexuality per se is not the only terrifying aspect of David's youthful world. "The Cellar" (the title of the novel's first section) finally becomes a metaphor of David's curious descent and initiation into the dreck of life. David's characteristic gesture at this point is one of running; he generally runs from the nightmarish world of his childhood to the warmth of his mother. As the novel progresses, however, David tends to look for ways to run out of his world altogether.

Roth is at his best as a literary artist when he is creating the kind of grotesques that can only be described as Dickensian. These figures usually exert some amount of authority and control over David, and Roth makes them qualify as objects of our disgust and David's rebellion. The Hebrew teacher, Reb Yidel Pankower, is a good case in point. If the Hebrew teacher of Yiddish songs like "Oifn Pripichok" represents a portrait of extreme sentimentality, Pankower has more than made up for him.

Nearly every contemporary Jewish author has a portrait of the "old heder teacher" somewhere in the canon of his work. Philip Roth's "Conversion of the Jews" revolves about such a figure as do sections of Bruce Jay Friedman's Stern. However, to a very large extent the Hebrew school teacher has dropped out of both modern fiction and life as an influential person. While modern authors continue to use the heder teacher as a nostalgic touchstone, their characterizations lack any real intensity because the teacher no longer poses a genuine "threat." Pankower, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely:

He appeared old and certainly untidy. He wore soft leather shoes like house slippers, that had no place for either laces or buttons. His trousers were baggy and stained, a great area of striped and crumpled shirt intervened between his belt and his bulging vest. The knot of his tie, which was nearer one ear than the other, hung away from his soiled collar.

Pankower is not only physically repulsive, but he is psychologically monstrous. As one of his students describes him, "He's a louser. He hits." Pankower is, in fact, a first-class sadist who gets more joy from wrong answers than he does from right ones. His authority symbols are whittled-down popsicle sticks which the boys bring as payment for "special" treatment. Pankower uses the sticks as pointers to keep his place as he goes over the tiny Hebrew letters. When one of his duller students is unable to distinguish between a beth and a veth, [Hebrew letters] he launches into a tirade of very elaborate and characteristic curses:

"You plaster dunse!" he roared. "When will you learn a byse is a byse and not a vyse. Head of filth, where are your eyes?" He shook a menacing hand at the cringing boy and picked up the pointer.

But a few moments later, again the same error and again the same correction.

"May a demon fly off with your father's father! Won't blows help you? A byse, Esau, pig! A byse! Remember, a byse, even though you die of convulsions!"

Roth's ear for dialect and his ability to capture the flavor of Yiddish in Anglicized forms is one of the great triumphs of Call it Sleep. However, like Twain's use of the Negro dialect, Roth is more interested in presenting the "illusion" of dialect than the dialect itself. Only a modern author such as Bernard Malamud seems to have more success in conveying a Yiddish dimension through English speech. However, Roth had a number of problems that have gone away as the Anglo-Jewish novel and its audience has grown. Roth, for example, feels compelled to explain whatever Yiddish puns appear in the novel: "Christmas … Jesus Crotzmich, the grocery man said and he always laughed. Crotzmich means scratch me. Jesus scratch me. Funny." More often, however, he will simply duplicate the mutilated English of David's immigrant friends by the use of phonetic spellings:

"My ticher call id Xmas, bod de kids call id Christmas. Id's a goyish holiday anyways. Wunst I hanged up a stockin' in Brooklyn. Bod mine fodder pud in a eggshells wid terlit paper an' a piece f' om a ol' kendle. So he leffed w'en he seen me. Id ain' no Sendy Klaws, didja know?"

The Schearl family, on the other hand, seem to speak English without the slightest trace of an accent. To be sure, Roth keeps reminding us that it is really Yiddish, but the effect, nevertheless, places the Schearls in a curious juxtaposition to the others of their environment. As Mrs. Mink tells David's mother, "Yes, not proud, noble! You always walk with your head in the air—so!"

The major difference, however, between the Schearls and the world surrounding them lies in the area of expressed intensity. Mr. Walter Allen has pointed out that Call it Sleep "must be the noisiest novel ever written." To be sure, the constant screaming of the Hungarian, Italian and Jewish immigrants who live together in the East Side slums certainly suggests that he is right. However, the Schearls frequently express their most intense moments in silence. Thus, Call it Sleep is, in many respects, also the quietest novel ever written.

In fact, the only occasions in the Schearl household than inevitably lead to a raised voice are those dealing with David's Aunt Bertha. She is every bit as much a grotesque as Pankower. Like the fiery Hebrew teacher, Bertha has an acid tongue and the courage to wield it. However, unlike Pankower, Bertha is a comic character whose sense of life makes for much of both the humor and pathos in Call it Sleep. In many respects, her wit is the only way she could cope with such a grotesque physical make-up:

She had a mass of rebellious, coarse red hair, that was darker than a carrot and lighter than a violin. And the color of her teeth, if one had to decide upon it, was green…. A single crease divided fat forearm from pudgy hand. Her legs landed into her shoes without benefit of ankles. No matter what she wore, no matter how new or clean, she always managed to look untidy.

If Bertha's "distressingly homely" appearance has caused her moments of anguish, she has, at least, managed to adjust to her condition with a distinctly Jewish shrug. As she puts it, "pearl and cloth of gold would stink on me."

For Bertha, America is a land both cursed and blessed. The factory system has enabled her to buy an incredibly large pair of underpants for only "twenty cents" and, thus, she "can wear what only a baroness in Austria could wear." However, when David's father tears the undergarment in a fit of rage, Bertha changes her tune in a way which must have made the "social reformers" of her day very happy indeed:

Why did I ever set foot on this stinking land? Why did I ever come here? Ten hours a day in a smothering shop—paper flowers! Rag flowers! Ten long hours, afraid to pee too often because the foreman might think I was shirking.

However, no matter how much Bertha may rail against the system in general or David's father in particular, she is still very much aware of her own inadequacies. Although she is still quite young, there is a good possibility that she will not be able to find a husband. When David's mother tries to comfort her with the observation that "New York is full of all kinds of men who would want her," Bertha replies:

… "It's also full of all kinds of glib, limber Jewesses who can play the piano. Go! Go!" she tossed he head petulantly. "By the time I learn to speak this tongue I'll be what? Thirty! Old and dry! Others have money, others can dance, can sing with their hands so—Yuh-Yuh-ruh! All I can do is laugh and eat—my only talents! If I don't get a man now—" She waved her hand as if throwing something away. "Maybe I wont even be able to do that."

The actual threat of the "glib limber Jewesses," however, is more imagined than real. Bertha's role as the "have-not" immigrant who is the economic victim of her surroundings is a decidedly short lived one. In fact, she is ultimately a kind of gastronomic Horatio Alger, who ends up with not only a husband, but a candy store as well.

Therefore, the "threats" in Call it Sleep are often more social than economic. David must face the problems of living in a land which puts more premium on "fitting in" than "sticking out." Thus, David's reaction to his first encounter with antisemitism foreshadows the rejection of religious and filial ties which has become a convention in more recent Anglo-Jewish literature:

"Dat's a sheeny block, Pedey," prompted the second freckled lieutenant with ominous eagerness.

"Yea. Yer a Jew ainchiz?"

"No I ain't!" he protested hotly. "I ain't nod a Jew!"

"Only sheenies live in dat block!" countered Pedey narrowly.

"I'm a Hungarian. My muder 'n' foder's Hungarian. We're de janitors."

The epitome of the freedom to which David aspires is symbolized in his Christian friend, Leo. As David puts it, "There was no end to Leo's blessings—no father, almost no mother, skates." As if these weren't enough, Leo had a Catholic medal which allows its owner to "Johnny-high-dive all yuh wants an' yuh'll never hit bottom." To David, Leo's medal makes him not only "god-like," but gives him the right (as a "superior being") to mock Jewish paraphernalia in a wholesale fashion. Even when Leo describes a mezzuzeh as "full o' Chinee on liddle terlit paper," David remains silent although

he felt a slight qualm of guilt, yes, guilt because he was betraying all the Jews in his house who had Mezuzehs above their doors; but if Leo thought it was funny, then it was funny and it didn't matter. He even added lamely that the only thing Jews wore around their necks were camphor balls against measles, merely to hear the intoxicating sound of Leo's derisive laughter.

Thus, Leo represents all the glamor and appeal of a world beyond his narrow ghetto and its limited possibilities. David cannot reach this "enchanted land," however, because he lacks the necessary means of transportation:

Skates. That was the real reason why he had lost Leo—because he lacked them…. If he only had a pair of skates!… If he had a pair of skates he could leave the hated boys on his block behind him; he could go to Leo's block, to Central Park as Leo said he did.

To be sure, David's almost compulsive desire to escape the shackles of his Jewish environment seems a far cry from the assimilated suburban world of a Philip Roth or a Bruce Jay Friedman. However, the difference between his skates and their station wagons is only one of degree and not of kind. Certainly one of the reasons that Call it Sleep has done so well in its re-publication is that it suggested a direction in 1934 which a number of people have taken since. For many people, the novel represents an index of accomplishment and, therefore, it becomes almost fashionable to read about one's ancestors, no matter how poor they might have been.

In the final pages of the novel, David receives "shocks," both literal and figurative. In an extended stream-of-consciousness section which finally widens the social scope until it includes a kind of thirties' panorama, Roth manages to achieve the same effect that John Dos Passos matches in his lengthy trilogies. David is reawakened into both a new life and a new world. Although there have been countless novels which focused on the initiation experience, Call it Sleep is one of the very few to end with such a young protagonist. However, the intensity of his initiation is not hampered by his youth. David "learns" a variety of lessons and, presumably, he will learn more. However, his childhood nightmare of Oedipal fears finally has been conquered and David can go on with the business of defining himself in an adult world.

In the final analysis Call it Sleep is more universal and significant than any critical discussion of the thirties or Anglo-Jewish literature can possibly suggest. Although the Freudian apparatus may strike some contemporary readers as a bit artificial, the bulk of David's initiation experiences are so archetypal in character that they will strike even the most sophisticated reader as "true." And about its neglect, as David's last words suggest, "One might as well call it sleep."

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