Mailer, Doctorow, Roth. A Cross-Generational Reading of the American Berserk
Of all American paradoxes, none is greater than this: that the typical American cherishes free speech but is almost mortally offended by public protest, which he regards as at best lacking in taste and at worst an outright crime. A nation founded on dissent, America is exquisitely uncomfortable with ill-mannered disagreement. More than freedom itself, an American is likely to value moral insularity and absolution: he wants to live his life free from ethical challenge. He seeks suburban anesthesia, a life of commercial abundance untroubled by the pain inflicted elsewhere to maintain it, whether through military aggression or the global exploitation of labor. The American hopes to be reminded that he is good and blameless — and quickly condemns his critics as envious or mad or driven by dark agendas. As by an unwritten law, he denounces protest as an offense against his amour propre. This condemnation, ipso facto, makes a figurative criminal of the protester, who, when her efforts are scorned, finds herself not trying to persuade, but acting in a spirit of resentment and self-vindication. She sees any act by her countryman that does not challenge the social system as intolerable evidence of complicity and collaboration. The spirit of compromise vanishes, and the protester risks falling into the attitude described by Philip Roth as “the American berserk.” My address examines this process of polarization through three indispensable American novels of protest: Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night; E.L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel; and Philip Roth’s American Pastoral.
protest; radicalism; liberalism; conscience; literature; Norman Mailer; E. L. Doctorow; Philip Roth
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SONMEZ, Felicia. “Trump Suggests That Protesting Should Be Illegal.” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-suggests-protesting-should-be-illegal/2018/09/04/11cfd9be-b0a0-11e8-aed9-001309990777_story.html?utm_term=.e36e3886a24d. (Accessed 17 November 2018).
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