The schlemiel and anomie : the fool in society

Edgar, Robert Charles

Literature; Mass media; Performing arts
November 2001

Thesis or dissertation

© 2001 Robert Charles Edgar. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This thesis examines the character of the schlemiel in comparative Jewish and Gentile American literature and cinema. It is the central claim that whilst the schlemiel is a strong Jewish character type this figure also appears in the texts of other socio-cultural groupings to an ever increasingly degree. With this is mind the character is examined in relation to the contemporary Western world, or Postmodern society.To achieve this aim the study is divided into three sections. The first deals with traditional perspectives on the schlemiel, examining prior definitions and gives a brief historically linear overview. Key examples are given to provide `case studies' in both literature and film. The examples chosen represent those characters considered to be archetypes, specifically Hyman Kaplan and the characters created by Woody Allen. Section Two examines processes of characterisation in literature and film to investigate whether there is anything at the most basic level of the text which identifies the traits and attributes of a schlemiel or from where an audience may derive information. This section examines a range of Jewish and non-Jewish texts via Structuralist and Narratological analysis. Section Three looks at the contemporary social function of schlemiels. Even if it is possible to clearly identify what schlemiels are their socio-cultural function remains important. The character is placed in a `postmodern' context. The final chapter develops from this into looking at the function of the schlemiel as a comic character and theories of comedy.Whilst the theoretical approaches utilised are there to test the character it is inevitable that the schlemiel will test the theories. It is the irrational and illogical nature of . schlemiebthat dictates that they will have problems fitting into the rigid patterns created by any neo-Structuralist approach such as Narratology. The character also tests rationalist responses to the `Postmodern condition' and this in turn provides a critique of the Aristotelian principles of Section Two and the socio-temporal definitions of Section One. This work attempts to provide a re-evaluation of a historically entrenched character for the late twentieth century and to provide a critique of theories, which purport to provide universal answers.

Department of English, The University of Hull
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