From a Galician Shtetl to Columbia University
Roth’s autobiography describes his Galician shtetl’s class subdivisions and increasing awareness of opportunities for travel and financial advancement. But the traditions of Hassidic piety enforced a conventional system of restraints on ambition and curiosity. At age 8, his rabbi performed an exorcism on Roth after he saw a Demon at the moment he touched a young girl. Resentment for the way his family felt he needed to restrain any sexual arousal led to a rebellion against his father and teachers. Upon immigrating to the Lower East Side at age 10, the boy experienced poverty, racial hostility, the necessity of females to become prostitutes to avoid arranged marriage and drudgery, and the ubiquitous nature of prurient entertainments (posters, films, magazines, photographs). His father’s insistence that he find work to support the family caused a rift with his son, who in eastern Europe decided Roth should become a Rabbi.
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