Job or Jonah? Re-elaborating and Overcoming Biblical Paradigms in Philip Roth’s “Nemesis”


  • Anastasia Piccioni



Philip Roth, Jewish Biblical tradition, Biblical paradigms, Nemesis, poliomyelitis


As commentators like Coetzee, Batnitzky and Stangherlin have already stated, Philip Roth’s 2010 novella Nemesis can be read as a complex reconfiguration of some tropes belonging to Greek mythology juxtaposed to a rewriting of the Jewish Biblical tradition: embracing features from Oedipus, Prometheus, and Job, Eugene “Bucky” Cantor is the result of Roth’s “audaciousness of combining the characteristics of a fundamentally Judeo-Christian figure with that of the Greek tragic hero withing a single character” (Stangherlin 2016, 75). However, as regards his pervasive and conflicted relationship with God, I believe an examination of Bucky Cantor through the lenses of the Jewish Biblical tradition may shed new light on Roth’s peculiar characterization of the novella’s protagonist. Building on contributions by the abovementioned authors, I argue that Bucky Cantor can be investigated as the point of intersection between two different Biblical models, Job and Jonah, and that his character overcomes the archetypical status of each of his paradigms. Although Bucky is immediately associated with the Joban themes because of his extreme position as regards theodicy, his sudden abandonment of the playground students—considered by Bucky as his responsibility and mission at the beginning of the narration—reminds the reader of Jonah’s rejection of God’s will. Ultimately, Bucky’s ‘whale’ consists of his role in the spread of the polio epidemic, which is also the pinnacle of his religious crisis: “God gave me polio that I in turn gave to at least a dozen kids, probably more” (Roth 2010, 263).

Author Biography

Anastasia Piccioni

Anastasia Piccioni is a former student of English and Angloamerican Studies (MA) at Sapienza University of Rome, recently gradutated with a thesis focused on a thematic and comparative analysis of T. Kushner's Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes and P. Roth's Nemesis. She has recently co-curated the issue "The Art of Remembering" (May 2023) for the online student-based journal Transitions - A Postgraduate Journal. Currently, her main reasearch interests include Jewish American literature, postmodernist fiction and gender studies.


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