Leon Uris

’ Writing And Influence Of Life Essay, Research Paper

Leon Uris?s Jewish background deeply affected his writing and his writing style. This paper will present a detailed biography to enable the reader to understand better the perspective of this tremendous author. This paper will discuss Uris?s worldview so that the reader will know how and why this extraordinary author had a colossal impact not only on the Jewish community, but also on the wider world community. Uris?s writing and writing style link directly to his background and important events in his life. The writer will discuss Uris?s main themes and how his religious and ethnic background affected these themes. Leon Uris?s background, his writing and his writing style, and his impact on the world are undeniably linked.

Leon Marcus Uris was born on August 3, 1924, in Baltimore, Maryland (Sriram, 1997). He was the second child and only son of Wolf William and Anna (Blumberg) Uris. The name ?Uris? is a derivative of ?Yerushalmi? and means ?The Man of Jerusalem.” Both of his parents were Jews with Russian-Polish backgrounds. Uris has said that he does not like recalling his childhood because he spent it in poor, Jewish neighborhoods. From this painful childhood came his deep love for minorities, underdogs, and left-wing causes.

Uris began his writing career at the age of seven when he wrote an operetta about his dog that had recently died. In grammar school, Uris failed English several times. When he reached high school, Uris developed a passion for literature. One of his greatest influences was John Steinbeck. Steinbeck wrote about the common working man and the people dispossessed by the Great Depression. Uris would later emulate Steinbeck by writing about oppressed groups and the dignity of every man and woman.

In 1942, Uris dropped out of high school and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He was stationed in San Diego, New Zealand, and Hawaii before becoming a radio operator at Guadalcanal and Tarawa. After contracting malaria and being transferred back to San Francisco, he met his soon-to-be-wife, Betty Beck. They had three children, Karen, Mark and Michael (Barnetson, Bergin, Bower, Stevenson, 1967). Uris served limited duty stateside in the Marines until his discharge in 1946 (Sriram, 1997).

Uris?s marriage to Betty Beck ended in divorce in early 1968. This fact proves important later in this discussion. When characters in Uris?s novels had problems similar to Uris?s divorce, their problems can be traced back to this event. Soon after the divorce, in September 1968, he married Margery Edwards. Edwards was found dead the next year of an apparent suicide. In 1970, he married once again, to Jill Peabody.

The defining fact of Uris?s life and prominent theme of Uris?s works is his Jewish heritage. To be more precise, the persecution of Jews is the subject of the majority of Uris?s works. To fully understand Uris and his writing, one should explore the history of the persecution of the Jews.

Jews are known to have been persecuted since earliest recorded history. Around 1200 B.C., the Israelites were ruled by Pharaoh, who enslaved the Jews in Egypt. (Lefkovitz, 1996; Sachar, 1997). From that captivity arose the great leader called Moses. Moses and his successor, Joshua, led the Israelites to Canaan, or ?The Promised Land.? For over two hundred years the Israelites struggled to establish themselves. They fought with the Canaanites, the Philistines, and other tribes. Ultimately they split into two groups, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. In 720 B.C. Assyria conquered Israel, scattered what was left of the Israelites, and sent them into exile. Some 135 years later, in 586 B.C., the Babylonians conquered Judah, destroyed the temple, and took many Jews to Babylonia as prisoners . One of the few Jewish victories came in 168 B.C., when the Jews, led by warrior Judah Maccabee, revolted and overthrew the Syrians because King Antiochus IV tried to outlaw Judaism. The holiday of Hanukkah celebrates their victory.

In 63 B.C., the Romans conquered Judah, which they called Judea. Roman rule was generally harsh and discriminatory. In A.D. 66, the Jews revolted and drove out the Romans for a brief time. Four years later Titus, the Roman general, and his men conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and took many Jewish captives to Rome. The famous Wailing Wall is all that remains of the Temple. The Jews who refused to surrender, called Zealots, retreated to a mountain fortress and held out for three years. When the Romans tried to capture the mountain fortress, instead of surrendering, all 960 Zealots committed suicide. This is merely one example of Jewish perseverance and determination to live free, despite severe and prolonged oppression and hardship. The last great Jewish rebellion occurred in A.D. 132, when Bar Kokhba and Rabbi Akiva seized the holy city of Jerusalem, but were crushed three years later. After this uprising, Jews were barred from Jerusalem.

In the middle ages, Jews and their neighbors, Christians, lived peacefully and some Christians respected the Jews. Many did not. Some Christians blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus and mistrusted them because they would not accept Christianity. This popular idea became known as anti-Semitism. When the Crusades started in 1096, the situation of the Jews became worse. Although the Crusades were campaigns to free the Holy Land from the Muslims, they stirred a wave of intense feeling against all non-Christians, including the Jews. Crusaders killed many Jews and sometimes even massacred whole Jewish communities and settlements. This period became known to the Jews as the Martyrdom, although it would not be the last time Jews would die for their beliefs.

As time progressed, Jews were seen as outsiders by the Christians. All of the troubles of the Christians? societies were blamed on the Jews. In the mid-1300?s, when a terrible plague, the Black Death, swept across Europe and killed more than one-fourth of the population, the Christians blamed the Jews and mobs were sent to kill thousands of them. Christians rumored that Jews killed Christian children as part of Jewish rituals; this act was called blood libel and was used to oppress and persecute many Jews. Many political and religious leaders forced Jews to wear special patches or badges that identified them as Jews. In many cities, Jews were constrained to live in separate communities called ghettos. Jews also lost many rights, such as the right to own land and the right to practice certain trades. To earn a living, many Jews became moneylenders or peddlers. While their hard work brought success, it brought further contempt from their Christian customers, who resented their dependence on Jewish commercial interests.

Beginning in the late 1200?s, the Jews were expelled from England, France and parts of central Europe. Many settled in eastern European countries like Poland. In Spain, the king and queen established a special court, called the Inquisition, to punish people suspected of not following Christian teachings. This court called for many Jews to leave Spain and Portugal. Jewish life in Poland flourished through the 1500?s, but in 1648 and 1649 thousands of Jews were massacred in Ukraine, then a part of Poland. During the late 1800?s, anti-Semitism was a powerful force in European politics and many anti-Semitic writers thought Jews were inferior to Germans and other peoples of northern Europe. In Russia, Jews were crowded in an area along the western border called the Pale of Settlement. Starting in 1881, many Jews were killed in a series of massacres called pogroms.

In 1933 Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany. He blamed the Jews for Germany?s troubles and began a vicious campaign against them. The Nazis seized Jewish businesses and destroyed Jewish synagogues. There were a few Jewish revolts against Nazi oppression and thuggery. The most famous insurrection occurred in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943. Although the Warsaw Jews were surrounded and poorly armed, they held out for four weeks. Many Jews who escaped the ghettos joined bands of fighters called partisans and performed acts of sabotage and revenge against the Germans.

Ultimately, the brave and determined European Jews fell to the Nazi dictator. In 1939, believing that World War II had closed Germany to worldwide scrutiny, the Nazis began their campaign to exterminate all Jews. Firing squads shot more than 1 million Jews. About 4 million more were killed in concentration camps. Hundreds of thousands died in the ?death camps? from disease and starvation. By 1945, more than 6 million Jews had been murdered, two out of every three Jews living in Europe.

The Holocaust left the Jews depleted in number and emotionally and spiritually wounded. However, it also revived the popular notion of Jewish sovereignty and crystallized a sense of determination to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the ancient site of the Jewish patriarchs. The state of Israel was formally established in 1948, in the former British colony of Palestine. Arabs, the majority of the residents of the new nation, opposed the idea and riots and battles broke out between Jews and Arabs. Full-scale Arab-Israeli wars broke out in 1956, 1967, and 1973. Jewish troops fought with fierce determination, and each conflict resulted in the enlargement of Israel?s boundaries.

Even today Jews endure hostility from Palestinians, other Arabs and European nations. Before the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, Jews were ignored and immigration to their homeland was restricted.

Uris has written many world-renowned books. Since Uris was in the Marines, logically his first book was about his experiences there. Titled Battle Cry, it was published in 1953 (Sriram, 1997). The book was a story of how Marines trained and how they actually performed under the stress of battle conditions. Critics said it was one of the most intimate and accurate accounts ever written on the subject. Soon after the success of Battle Cry, Uris published The Angry Hills. The Angry Hills was based upon the diary that Uris?s uncle kept while he served on the Palestinian brigade, which was an extension of the Israeli army. Although commentators said it was not as good as Battle Cry, it nevertheless offered a skillful blending of fact and fiction and began Uris?s advocacy of the Jewish cause.

Uris?s next novel, Exodus, was said to be his best work. It presented a sweepingly powerful love story intertwined with the conflict and political intrigue surrounding the founding of the state of Israel. The plot started with a simple escape from one of Britain?s Jewish internment camps (Uris, 1986). Later this tale involved two brothers running from their homeland, Russia. The book presented absorbing details on the small farming communities, called kibbutzes, which many struggling families tried to join or start. The novel also included the many small wars and battles that Israel fought to keep people off of its land. Exodus concluded with a description of the United Nations talks that finally forced Britain to release its grip on Palestine and allot it to become the independent nation of Israel. Exodus also reminded the world of the many war-crimes committed by so many countries against the Jews. It was published in 1958 and sold millions of copies around the world in dozens of languages.

Uris continued to educate the reading public on the history of the Jewish people in Mila 18, a novel about the Warsaw ghetto uprising. In it he further developed the message of the Jews? historic struggle against tyranny and oppression. Mila 18 was published in 1961 (Uris, 1961; Sriram, 1997).

Uris?s next significant novel was QB VII (Sriram, 1997). QB VII was based upon a traumatic event in Uris?s life. In Exodus, Uris wrote about an actual person a doctor whom he alleged had performed inhumane experiments on Jewish prisoners in concentration camps. The doctor sued Uris for libel, and a bitter trial ensued. The novel accurately portrayed the events of the trial and revealed a great deal of Uris?s private anguish. QB VII concluded with an ambiguous verdict; the plaintiff won but was awarded only a half-penny in damages.

Uris?s next, and last, good novel was Trinity, published in 1976 (Sriram, 1976). Trinity is based on the events leading up to the Catholic uprising in Northern Ireland, on Easter of 1916 (Uris, 1976). It too features a love story amid the struggle for self-determination by an oppressed minority.

Uris?s writing style is imaginative and exciting in its blend of historical fact and fiction. Many of Uris?s best books follow a simple plot line. Two main characters fall in love as they interact with significant historical events. An example of this is in Exodus, when the Israeli freedom fighter falls in love with a Christian nurse. As they travel around Israel, history unfolds and allows the reader to see and feel how the nation of Israel came to be.

It is no surprise that a majority of Uris?s novels are told from a Jewish perspective. In Uris?s best-known novel, Exodus, the story is told with bias against the nations that try to infringe on the rights of the Jewish race. In QB VII, attack by litigation is a major theme of the book, and the main character, a Jewish writer, is vindicated by the paltry sum awarded at the trial. In many of Uris?s novels, the reader can tell that this inclination in favor of Jews compounds the intended effect of the story.

Another sign that the literature one is reading belongs to Uris is his use of separate chapters to develop each major character and to describe the defining events of his or her life. By the end of the book, their life stories become intertwined and they are thrown together by calamitous circumstances. For example, in Exodus, a chapter on each main character (Ari, Kitty Freemont, Akira, Yossi Robinsky, Barak Ben Canaan) is given. At the end of the book, the sealing of the foundation of Israel involves all of the main characters and reflects events from their lives.

This plot device works well in many other of Uris?s other novels. In Trinity, each of three main Irish families, the Larkins, the Hubbles, and the MacLeods, is described and developed in a chapter. In the end, and not surprisingly, all three families intersect as they become involved in the Easter uprising of 1916.

In Uris?s books, the themes are obvious and referred to often. In Exodus, the strongest theme is an idea that made the whole world think; it is the proposition that the world commits a great evil in oppressing a race of people who have done nothing wrong. Exodus accuses the nations of Germany, Russia, France, and Britain, who oppressed the Jews and opposed the establishment of a homeland. This is a great example of one of Uris?s main reasons for writing, to liberate oppressed groups. Although Uris cannot actually liberate these groups, he can make known to the world their situation or their cause and can excite public opinion in their favor. In Exodus, he vividly communicates to the world the injustices done to the Jews in World War II and the Jewish dream of restoring their homeland.

In Trinity, the same theme is presented, the oppression of a powerless ethnic group. In this classic the group is Irish Catholics and the oppressors are the British Protestant oligarchy. The Hubble family harshly rules and exploits the Irish commoners and laborers like the Larkins and the MacLeods. Like Exodus, Trinity condemns the oppression of a people (the Irish) and celebrates their struggle for freedom. Another good example of this theme is in the book Mila 18, where the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto rebel against Nazi tyranny, although their courage carries a high price in lost lives.

This theme that is central to many of Uris?s greatest novels arises directly from his Jewish background, family life, and childhood. As a vocal and influential member of an oppressed minority, Uris writes not only to fight the oppression of his own people but also to stand up for other oppressed groups. Since Uris has unpleasant memories of his childhood in a poor Jewish community, one can speculate that he personally experienced discrimination, persecution, or perhaps even abuse. That would explain his ability to identify with unpopular minorities and to defend groups that are subjugated by the power of the majority.

QB VII, the book in which Uris most reveals his personal experience, contains a hint that Uris feels that he is oppressed. One is surprised that a successful author would feel such powerlessness. Perhaps the origin is found in Uris?s family life and childhood, in which he experienced discrimination because of his religious beliefs and practices. Perhaps it comes from a sense of the collective consciousness of the Jewish people.

The book, QB VII, is about a life and an important trial in the life of an author, Abraham Cady. The author, Cady, is a mirror of Uris and Uris?s career. In this book, Cady has problems with sex, money, and alcohol. These three things are all things that people feel like are ways out of pressures and stresses. Although no book ever said that Uris had a problem with any of these things, one can assume that he did, if the rest of the book is like Uris?s life. Uris?s Jewish background helps to reiterate this idea. The Jewish race of people have throughout history been oppressed. So Uris, being Jewish, is almost compelled to feel that he is personally being oppressed.

Another theme that appeared in many of Uris?s better novels was the idea of tolerance. Uris?s childhood could easily attribute to this notion of tolerance. As a child he tolerated persecution and possibly abuse. Growing up to this standard, Uris may have assumed that that was what is considered to be proper and that is where he got many ideas for books.

Uris?s writing is, and always will be, largely affected by his Jewish background and his persecuted childhood. One of Uris?s main writing styles is that almost all of his writings are told from a Jewish point of you. Uris, growing up in a Jewish family, has been taught to look at everything from a Jewish direction and his writing reveals this. Uris?s novels are based mainly on Jewish history or on a Jewish character. Through Uris?s writing and deep love for the Jewish community has come some of the most controversial and revealing information the world has ever seen. Uris has shown the world the Jewish community and through his writing the world has accepted these persistent, determined Jews as one of their own.


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