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Goodbye, Columbus  
Goodbye columbus.jpg
First edition cover
Author Philip Roth
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Novella, short story collection
Publication date 1959
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)

Goodbye, Columbus (1959) is the title of the first book published by the American novelist Philip Roth, a collection of six stories.

In addition to its title novella, set in New Jersey, Goodbye, Columbus contains the five short stories "The Conversion of the Jews," "Defender of the Faith," "Epstein," "You Can't Tell a Man by the Song He Sings," and "Eli, the Fanatic." Each story deals with the problems and concerns of second and third-generation assimilated American Jews as they leave the ethnic ghettos of their parents and grandparents and go on to college, the white-collar professions, and life in the suburbs.

The book was a critical success for Roth, winning the 1960 National Book Award and earning a name for him as a talented up-and-coming young writer. Still, the book was not without controversy, as certain elements in the Jewish community took issue with Roth's less than flattering portrayal of some of his characters. The short story Defender of the Faith, about a Jewish sergeant who is exploited by three shirking, co-religionist draftees, drew particular ire. When Roth in 1962 appeared on a panel alongside the distinguished black novelist Ralph Ellison to discuss minority representation in literature, the questions directed at him soon turned into denunciations. Many accused Roth of being a self-hating Jew, a label that would stick with him for much of his career. It is often speculated that the wildly obscene comedy of Portnoy's Complaint (1969) was Roth's defiant reply to his early Jewish critics.


Goodbye, Columbus

The title story of the collection, Goodbye, Columbus, is told from the point of view of the narrator, Neil Klugman. Neil is an intelligent graduate of Rutgers University who works in a low paying position in a library. He lives with his Aunt Gladys and Uncle Max in a working class neighborhood of Newark. One summer, Neil meets and falls in love with Brenda Patimkin, a student at Radcliffe College who is from a wealthy family living in the affluent suburb of Short Hills. The novella explores the level of classism which afflicts the relationship, despite the fact that Brenda's father, Ben, is from the same environment as Neil. The issue of assimilation is intrinsic to the classism as well, since Brenda is much more assimilated than Neil. The title, Goodbye, Columbus refers to a record Brenda's brother listens to about his years as an athlete at Ohio State University, further proof of the Patimkins' success at assimilation. As the book proceeds, Neil finds that their relationship is falling apart. It is finally realized that Neil and Brenda's relationship is not based on love but lust. Thus, the title may be seen as a metaphor for Neil saying goodbye to the affluent, assimilated world of the Patimkins.


The title story of the novella was made into the 1969 film, Goodbye, Columbus, with Ali MacGraw and Richard Benjamin.

"The Conversion of the Jews"

Ozzie Freedman, a Jewish-American boy about thirteen years old, confronts his Hebrew school teacher, Rabbi Binder, with challenging questions such as whether it is possible that God gave the Virgin Mary a child without having intercourse. Ozzie's mother, though she loves her son dearly, is a conventional thinker and can't understand why Ozzie keeps getting in trouble at school for asking unorthodox questions. During an argument, she slaps him across the face. Back at school, Rabbi Binder interprets Ozzie's question about the virgin birth as insubordinate, though Ozzie sincerely wishes to better understand God and his faith. When Ozzie continues to ask challenging questions, Binder slaps him on the face accidentally giving Ozzie a bloody nose. Interestingly, a nearly identical episode occurs in Mordecai Richler's Son of A Smaller Hero, another North American-Jewish author to whom many comparisons of Roth's work have been made, most notably, in the alienation experienced by the assimilated Jew, no longer a member of his original ethnic, religious community, but similarly not accepted into the mass culture. Ozzie calls Binder a bastard and, without thinking, runs up to the roof of the synagogue where his Hebrew school lessons are kept. Ozzie threatens to jump.

The rabbi and pupils go out to watch Ozzie on the roof and try to convince him not to jump. Ozzie's mother arrives. Ozzie threatens to jump unless they all bow down on their knees in the Christian tradition and admit that God can make a virgin birth, and furthermore, that they believe in Jesus Christ before he willingly comes off the roof. He then admonishes all those present that they should never "hit anyone about God".

"The Conversion of the Jews" is an archaic phrase which can be found in Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress": "And you should, if you please, refuse/Till the conversion of the Jews."

"Defender of the Faith"

The story deals with a Jewish American army sergeant who attempts to resist the manipulations of a fellow Jew who exploits their joint ethnicity to receive special favors.


The title character goes through a crisis, feeling at age fifty-nine that by accepting the responsibilities of business, marriage, and parenthood, he has missed out on life, and starts an affair with another woman.

"You Can't Tell a Man by the Song He Sings"

An unnamed narrator recalls the events surrounding his meeting Alberto Pelagutti, a troublemaker, in high school.

"Eli, the Fanatic"

The assimilated Jews of a small community express fear that their peaceful coexistence with the Gentiles will be disturbed by the establishment of an Orthodox yeshiva in their neighborhood.

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