“A Jew cannot be defined by religion, race, or national identity: one is a Jew if a Gentile says one is a Jew.” (Lawrence D. Lowenthal)
Does Arthur Miller’s Focus affirm or challenge this view?
Arthur Miller’s novel Focus, first published in 1945, tells the story of the ordinary anti-Semite Lawrence Newman, a personnel executive for a company in New York. His job is to employ secretaries and he routinely sifts out any Jewish applicants at the order of the management. In Newman’s opinion Jews are stingy impostors, he thinks they have no tradition of nobility and that their houses smell (Focus, p.32). When his eyesight gets worse he has to get glasses, which have the inadvertent effect of making his face look Jewish and people start taking him for a Jew. Immediately he begins to feel the impact of anti-Semitism. Even those he had thought to be his friends start to treat him as a Jew; so he is confronted with all the prejudices he has had against Jews himself. In the course of the novel Newman has to go through a lot of changes and, in the end, he accepts the identity forced upon him and resists the prejudice that he encounters.
Arthur Miller, an American Jew himself, once mentioned in an interview that he only writes about things that he has experienced himself. He also relates that once, as a teenager, he nearly did not get a job just because of the fact that he is Jewish.
This essay examines what it means to be Jewish, and will give further details about the different definitions of Jewishness found especially in America. It looks at the way Jewishness is presented in Arthur Miller’s novel Focus, and it examines whether Lowenthal’s definition of Jewishness is affirmed or challenged by novel.
2. Definitions of Jewishness
Jewish immigrants to America frequently tried to adapt their own culture to the American. The Jews were always concerned about their clothing and their behaviour and to make it fit into the American culture, they also tried not to be conspicuous by their different habits and holidays. In short, social integration was often one of the most highly valued goals. American Jews were always preoccupied with what the real Americans would think of them.
 Christopher Bigsby, ed., Arthur Miller and Company. Arthur Miller talks about his work in the company of actors, designers, directors and writers. (London: Methuen Drama 1990).
- Quote paper
- Lenka Eiermann (Author), 2005, 'A Jew cannot be defined by religion, race, or national identity: one is a Jew if a Gentile says one is a Jew.' (Lawrence D. Lowenthal), Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/47313