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Jewish poetics in Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King (1959)

posted on 16.02.2017, 02:23 by Limberis, Larissa
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 supervisor

Leah Garrett

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation

Campus location



Faculty of Arts