This thesis brings attention to the unique Jewish American intonation in Saul Bellow's novel Henderson the Rain King (1959). It investigates the novel's intertextual references, which include a range of Jewish and existentialist sources; and it locates the work within the history of Jewish immigration and intellectual life in the United States. While Bellow's other novels have received a great deal of scholarly attention, Henderson has been a conspicuous exception, and only a few responses have touched upon its Jewishness. This thesis identifies three foundational references featured in the novel: the modern Yiddish literature of Sholem Aleichem and S.Y Abramovitsh; the Bible; and existentialism. In doing so this thesis investigates the comically subversive manner in which Bellow portrays the only non-Jewish protagonist in his oeuvre. The underlying argument of this thesis is that Bellow's humor served as a response to those aspects of Western civilization that he deemed to be problematic. This thesis proposes that Bellow expressed his controversial views in Henderson by camouflaging them in a bewildering symbolic landscape and in layers of contradicting discourses, many of which rely on Jewish and Jewish-American knowledge.
The Author is now known as Larissa Sutherland.
Principal supervisorLeah Garrett
Year of Award2014
Department, School or CentreAustralian Centre for Jewish Civilisation
FacultyFaculty of Arts