The Anatomy Lesson by Philip Roth

“When he is sick, every man wants his mother; if she’s not around, other women must do.” That is Philip Roth’s theory that evidences itself in the persona of Nate Zuckerman. And how the women do do him!

The Anatomy Lesson has to be one of Roth’s bleakest but most hilariously profane works. He takes Zuckerman to a crossroads of truth and accountability, and the path that he takes to get there is dark to the point of but impossible blindness and a twisted reasoning that’s almost convincing– case in point being his views on pornography. Still, there is a redemptive offering to the saga of Zuckerman’s state of mind and being in that of his efforts to seek out a more meaningful vocation than that of being a writer, even if that means getting educated and trained to becoming an ER doctor! Nathan Zuckerman is his own best therapist and provides analysis and verdict in this manner on himself:

“Mr. Zuckerman…, you have opened the wrong windows, closed the wrong doors, you have granted jurisdiction over your conscience to the wrong court; you have been in hiding half your life and a son far too long– you, Mr. Zuckerman, have been the most improbable slave to embarrassment and shame, yet for sheer pointless inexcusable stupidity, nothing comes close to chasing across a cemetery, through a snowstorm… it appears, Mr. Zuckerman, that you may have lost your way since Thomas Mann last looked down from the altar and charged you to become a great man. I hereby sentence you to a mouth clamped shut.”

Just like a surgeon with a scalpel who can work wonders on the human body, we learn that Zuckerman with his pen can do the same on the human mind.


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