Indignation Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 34 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Indignation.
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Indignation Summary & Study Guide Description

Indignation Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Indignation by Philip Roth.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Roth, Philip. Indignation. Houghton Mifflin.

The novel opens in Newark, New Jersey, in 1950. Marcus Messner lives with his Jewish parents and attends Robert Treat College in Newark. The United States has just entered the Korean War, and Marcus’ father, a kosher butcher, has begun to act irrationally fearful. Despite Marcus’ studious nature and constant good behavior, Marcus’ father worries for Marcus’ future and safety. Marcus finds that he cannot bear the intensity of his father's growing irrational fear, so after completing one year at Robert Treat, Marcus transfers to Winesburg College in Ohio simply to put distance between himself and his father. He arrives at the beginning of his sophomore year and finds that it is quite conservative, predominantly Christian, and located in a fairly rural area. Marcus’ first roommate, Bertram Flusser, is misanthropic and intentionally disruptive of Marcus’ studies, so Marcus transfers to a different dorm room where his new roommate is the reticent Elwyn Ayers.

Marcus notices a pretty student in his American history class named Olivia Hutton. Marcus asks her out on a date, and after dinner at a fancy restaurant, they go to the car that Marcus borrowed from Elwyn. To Marcus’ shock, Olivia performs fellatio on him. He is confused after the date and avoids Olivia, but they eventually begin to correspond through the campus mail system. Olivia confides in a letter that she transferred from Mount Holyoke after being hospitalized for excessive drinking and a suicide attempt. When Marcus relates this information to Elwyn, Elwyn says something rude about Olivia. The two roommates have a fight. Marcus then transfers to an attic dorm room where he has no roommates. Due to Marcus’ frequent dorm transfers, dean of students Hawes Caudwell asks to have a meeting with Marcus. Marcus goes to Caudwell’s office, and Caudwell asks why Marcus chose to transfer dorm rooms instead of trying to reach agreements and reconciliations with his roommates. The meeting becomes heated due to personal differences between Marcus and Caudwell; Caudwell is devoutly Christian and Marcus is an atheist of Jewish background. The meeting ends when Marcus suddenly vomits.

Marcus is hospitalized and has his appendix removed. He is visited in the hospital by Olivia, and a nurse walks in just after Olivia brings Marcus to orgasm with her hand. Marcus’ mother comes from Newark to visit, and she says that the mental state of Marcus’ father is only getting worse. Marcus’ mother meets Olivia and notices the scar on Olivia’s wrist from Olivia’s suicide attempt. Marcus’ mother asks Marcus to promise that he will not see Olivia anymore and Marcus reluctantly agrees. When Marcus returns to campus, he finds that Olivia is nowhere to be seen. He goes to Dean Caudwell to ask about Olivia, and Dean Caudwell says that Olivia discovered that she was pregnant, had a nervous breakdown, and went home. Caudwell strongly suspects Marcus is the one who impregnated Olivia, as the nurse reported their sexual activity to Caudwell. However, Marcus knows that he could not possibly be the father. Marcus complains about all of this to Sonny Cottler, a senior student and the head of the Jewish fraternity on campus. Marcus also complains about the chapel requirement, which requires all students to regularly attend chapel. Cottler introduces Marcus to Marty Ziegler, who agrees to attend chapel in Marcus’ place in exchange for payment.

A blizzard hits campus in November and many of the male students suddenly erupt in a frenzy of excitement owed to sexual repression. Some of them invade the female dormitory buildings and steal pairs of underpants from the female students’ dorm rooms. Many of the male students are expelled. The college’s president, Albin Lentz, holds a mandatory assembly of the male students to reprimand them. Dean Caudwell later discovers that Marcus has paid someone to attend chapel in his place. When Marcus still refuses to attend chapel, Caudwell expels him. Marcus is then drafted into the Korean War, where he is killed by combat-inflicted wounds.

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