Demonization Fear And Jealousy? Essay, Research Paper
In the two works entitled, The Merchant of Venice, and The Fixer, the reader is thrown into two authors world where antisemitism was apparently prevalent despite the very different times that they were written. The purpose of this paper is to briefly discuss how each of the main Jewish characters are portrayed: how they are alike and different. It will also demonstrate how the characters demonstrate an antisemitic viewpoint. In Shakespeare s play The Merchant of Venice, the Jew in the story is Shylock. He is portrayed at first as a penny-pinching, but not wicked moneylender in the first couple of scenes. Later, however he is seen as a truly terrifying figure whose speeches reflect the triumph of inhumanity. He is at first far from being self-consciously evil, and has a fierce integrity and a very strong sense of self. He also displays a relentless focus on logic and his desire to be understood by the Christians. Very quickly however, he turn into the villain repeating single-mindedly, Let him look to his bond. He has an obsession with the pound of flesh. His pound of flesh is so important to him simply because it is Antonios flesh. Antonio is a Christian and Shylock being a Jew, he is therefore stereotypically out to seek revenge. He is outraged that Christian Venice would deny him what is rightfully his. One explanation for why he feels this way is that he is merely emulating Christian behavior. Do some Christians hate cats, pigs, rats? Well, Shylock despises Antonio. Do some Christians own slaves? Well, Shylock is soon to own a pound of Antonio s flesh. His pursuit of the pound of flesh is an excercise is naked, almost absurd cruelty. I ll have my bond! Speak not against my bond (III.iii.4) he cries, and attempts at reason are denied when he says, I ll have no speaking; I will have my bond. If Shylock stands for his bond, then the Christians stand for mercy. Though they may hate the moneylender as much as he hates them, they can still put aside their desire for vengeance and show him mercy. Shylock defeats Antonio, but he cannot stop there; he cannot put aside his desire to see his enemy bleed to death in front of him. When the tables are turned, however, the Christians stop. They may wish to see Shylock bleed, but they exercise mercy where he exercised none. As the Duke said, Thou shalt see the difference of out spirit (I.iv.366). Shylock is very well aware that he is being persecuted against by the Christians. He says, Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?…If you prick us, do we not bleed? (III.i.73). The reader is not, however, meant to sympathize with Shylock: he may have been wronged, but he lacks both mercy and sense of proportion, and his refusal to take pity on Antonio is contrasted with the mercy shown him by the Christians. At the end of the play the reader must accept that Shylocks conversion is a mercy, but one does not need to accept his statement that I am content (IV.i.392). A few line later, he leaves the stage and the play, saying, I pray you give me leave to go from hence. I am not well (IV.i.393-94). He more than not well-he is finished. His dignity, which he had preserved against all of Christian Venice is gone, and so is his integrity. Shylock simply cannot be a Christian; it is unimaginable. Thus, in order to save his play from the dark grip of Shylocks personality, Shakespeare abandons mercy and destroys his character. The other characters see Shylock as a villainous individual by nature. They condemn him for the practice of usury, and distrust him altogether. They feel that they were tricked into the situation. Antonio and Bassanio would never have made the agreement if they had not been under the assumption that it was as Shylock told them, in merry sport (I.ii.). They did not realize the extent of the situation they were getting themselves into. The Duke says that Shylock is, a stony adversary, an inhuman wretch (IV.i.5). Gratiano accuses him of being soulless, and states, You might as well use question with the world (IV.i.73). They feel the bond was made under false pretenses , as stated before, and therefore Shylock is a liar. Thus, Shylocks mind has been warped into obsession, not by Antonio alone, but by the persecutions visited on him by all of Christian Venice. He has taken Antonio as the embodiment of all his persecutors so that, in his pound of flesh, he can avenge himself on everyone. This pursuit seems to have sucked his own humanity away in the process. If Shylock stands for his bond, then the Christians stand for mercy. Though they may hate the moneylender as much as he hates them, they can still put aside their desire for vengeance and show him mercy. Shylock defeats Antonio, but he cannot stop there; he cannot put aside his desire to see his enemy bleed to death in front of him. When the tables are turned, however, the Christians stop. They may wish to see Shylock bleed, but they exercise mercy where he exercised none. As the Duke said, Thou shalt see the difference of out spirit (I.iv.366). Shylock is presented to the reader as the epitome of economic envy. The Christians in the story do not him because he is a usurer, and a Jew. They hate him because he embodies all the characteristic that they as Christians are supposed to despise. All the way from the fact that Jews rejected Christ, to the unspeakable horrors of ritual murder of children, Christians placed all their doubts and fears about Christianity upon the unknown: the Jew.
On the other hand, in the book entitled The Fixer by Bernard Malamud, we see a very different approach to the Jew in the story. Yakov is portrayed as a stereotypical, murdering, lying, and deceitful Jew. The other characters call him, a murdering Jew, blood-drinker, pariah, a dirty Jew, and that he practices, Jewish magic Malamud 67; 131; 110; 101). They claim that, No Jew is innocent, least of all of ritual assassin (Malamud 204). The other characters say these things because that is how they were taught to be. They hate the Jews, because they will defraud and cheat you because it is in their nature and they can t do otherwise…their Jewish blood itches when they aren t engaged in evil (Malamud 220). This eludes back to Reuthers comments that the Jews are inherently evil, and the only explation needed for being evil is to say that one is a Jew. There is an explanation to why Yakov was accused of the abominable crime of ritual murder. Throughout history a popular belief held by Christians was that Jews were still trying to harm Christ by re-enacting his death, or by slaughtering people according to a pattern to obtain blood for their rituals (Langmuir 35). The Jews were killed because they were Jews, because Jews were people in the midst of Christendom who stubbornly rejected the nonrational beliefs of Christianity and persisted in adhering to their Judaic religion to the point of martyrdom (Langmuir 31). The Christians fear the Jews, and are afraid of what they really do not understand. They are deathly afraid of Jews and at the same time frighten them to death (Malamud 273). The people seem to be scared of what they do not consider normal. This is seen in the quote, Jews are freemasons and revolutionaries who makes ashambles of our laws…and we must suppress them to maintain order (Malamud 297-98). Yakov was only the accidental choice for the sacrifice (Malamud 141). Throughout history we see that the Jew has been the scapegoat for numerous atrocities. The most obvious one is the murdering of Christ. Yakov became the man who took the fall for an entire nation. Yakov Bok as presented in The Fixer is in a manner showing fear and jealousy, but more obviously presented is demonization. Throughout the entire story there are the stereotypical phrases such as dirty Jew, Christ-killer, and so one. The author does a very good job of portraying Yakov also as a martyr. He does this by telling the story from Yakovs point of view instead of someone else s. This way the reader is more involved in how he feels, and gets a real sense of his persecution and suffering. These two books were both representation of antisemitic views. They are antisemitic in term of the portrayal of the Jew in the story, and the accusations being made. In both books one of the accusations was simply that the men were Jews. This includes for both the whole realm of accusations that accompanies the term Jew coupled with antisemitism from demon, to Christ-killer. These books were both presented in different ways, and came from two completely opposite time periods. Shakespeare is milder, yet his undertones of antisemitism are still there. This is representative of the times that Shakespeare was writing in. Malamud, however, is more open, freely incorportating the views of the time into his novel without fear of the public opinion. An explanation for these themes is presented by Reuther. She states that since Bible times the Jews are characterized by a desire to kill Jesus. She also says that in the catalogue of crime they are also charged with infanticide and that the Jews sacrificed their children to demons (Ruether 13). This shows evidence that even far before Malamuds times people like John Chrysostom were saying things like, he [himself] hates them [the Jews], God hates them, all the prophets hate them, and the holy martyrs hate them. In Crysostom s sermons, the Jews as a whole, have passed beyong the edge of humanity altogether and into the realm of the demonic (Ruether 15). This demonstrates very well the attitude of the Gentiles of The Fixer. Malamud shows the reader a more sympathetic view, because it is written from a Jews point of view. The attitude is not the same in The Merchant of Venice. However, if Shakespeare had been alive during Malamud s time, he would have written an entirely more graphic portrayal of the Jew. He was just writing according to his time, whereas it was acceptable for Malamud to pen the thoughts of people rather than simply elude to them. The demonizaton theme is quite obvious in The Fixer with all the reference made, and the envy is shown clearly in The Merchant of Venice. This is the product of what each author was trying to convey in the realm of antisemitic views in their times. An example that applies to both novels is found in the statement made by Langmuir that, There could hardly be a better confirmation of their [Christian] faith or better reassurance of the security of their identity as Christians than -as in show trials- the willingness of Jews to recognize the error of their ways and become Christian (Langmuir 31). Both authors did a very good job of demonstrating this, and several other ideas, such as demonization, fear and jealousy, yet they both did this in different ways.