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The Theatre of the Self

Art and Selfhood
in Philip Roth's Zuckerman Novels

On these pages you'll find the text of the 'doctoraalscriptie' (roughly equivalent to an MA thesis) with which I graduated at the Faculty of English of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in 1994.

The thesis consists of a single long essay on the major Zuckerman novels Philip Roth had written up to that time: the trilogy Zuckermand Bound and its sequel The Counterlife. I've divided this essay in 9 separate parts not to make the web pages overlong. If you prefer to print it out, you can download a pdf-file with the original text here.

I've put the text online because I still like some of the ideas I developed during my work on the thesis. If I had to write it now, I would doubtless try to put those ideas in a different shape and try to express them less clumsily. But since I don't have the time for that, I simply give the text (with a few tiny corrections) as it was handed in at the time (clumsy Dutchman's English and all).

If you haven't yet read any of the Zuckerman novels, the essay will be very abstract and dull. (If you have read those novels, the essay might still be abstract and dull, but at least you can say you tried...) The text presupposes a lot of knowledge about what happens in the novels. The thesis was clearly written for readers familiar with the Zuckerman novels. (Actually, for an audience of one: my supervisor.) This is one of the things I would probably try and change if I had the time to rewrite it.

As it stands, therefore, this won't do as an introduction to Roth or to the Zuckerman novels. It's of possible interest only if you've recently read some or all of those novels and are curious what other people have to say about it. If you haven't yet read the Zuckerman novels, go and read them first. I promise you this won't be a chore. In fact, it'll be a lot more fun than reading this thesis! (Or than writing it was, for that matter!)

Especially if you haven't read The Ghost Writer, I emphatically urge you not to read this essay. The Ghost Writer contains a plot twist with a surprise effect that's important to the story. If you start reading this essay before you've read the book, it will spoil part of the reading experience of the novel.

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More about Roth:
Roths 'Late Years'
Over Exit Ghost

MA thesis
Vrije Universiteit
January 1994

part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6
part 7
part 8
part 9