Rethinking the end of Philip Roth’s “Goodbye, Columbus.”
What is “Goodbye, Columbus”? A story of a summer romance, a satirical sketch of suburban arriviste Jews in the fifties—sure. But when I stumbled on Philip Roth’s first book on the shelf of my high school library, “Goodbye, Columbus” seemed to me above all a brief against marriage. The story’s point—or so I thought of it—unsettled me. I had no intention of heeding it. I was for marriage, a born ball and chain.
In the story, Neil Klugman, recently out of Rutgers and the army, works behind the desk at the Newark Library. His summer girlfriend is Brenda Patimkin, a Radcliffe student from tony Short Hills, New Jersey. “We lived in Newark when I was a baby,” she tells Neil—that is, before the Patimkins’ social climb. For Neil, Brenda’s allure is tangled up with his fascination of her prosperous world, and the closer the two of them get, the closer Neil comes to signing up for the whole Patimkin package: a fancy wedding, a lifetime management job at her father’s factory (Patimkin Kitchen and Bathroom Sinks), a country-club membership, a house in Short Hills, and, inevitably, babies. It’s cushy, but Neil isn’t sure he wants that life, while Brenda seems to consider no other. Read More