Phillip Roth’s The Plot Against America Critical Analysis

The Plot Against America

Phillip Roth’s The Plot Against America is undoubtedly one of the best political dramas of this century. In this counterfactual historical novel, Roth has presented the wide persecution of Jews in America during the second world war. The fiction develops with patience and subtlety and suddenly starts to perplex. 

Synopsis of The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

The story begins on the brink of the 33rd American election where the renowned aviation hero Charles A. Lindbergh runs for the presidency. A Jewish family and the entire Jewish community fear that if Lindberg wins the election, things going to get worse because he is a fascist and Nazi sympathizer. Eventually, in the 1940 presidential election, Lindberg won the election with a landslide victory defeating the existing president, Franklin Roosevelt.

Before winning the presidential election, Lindbergh blamed Jews for pushing the US into the second world war. After taking over the White House, Lindbergh negotiated with Nazi Germany and accepted all the virulent anti-Semitic policies without any difficulty. This American political fiction tells us the story of anti-semitic America during Lindbergh’s presidency when Roth’s family was persecuted in America like many other American Jewish citizens.

The Plot Against America at a Glance

The Plot Against America is a political allegory with the grips of fascist American politics published in 2004. Phillip Roth, the Pulitzer Prize winner novelist won two awards, the Society of American Historians’ prize and the W.H. Smith Award for this political fiction in 2005. The book was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It is a highly acclaimed book introducing topics like anti-Semitism, isolationism, trauma, and historical perception. 

The Plot Against America Critical Analysis

If there is a powerful voice that criticizes with fury within the American narrative, is the voice of Philip Roth.

Philip Roth is widely known among fiction lovers since the 1990s. He has become so important a figure that now the prestigious Library of America has published his entire work. It is an honour that previously fallen only to two other living novelists. 

Mr. Roth has published the best of his extensive bibliography in recent years including the American Trilogy: American Pastoral, I Married a Communist, and The Human Stain. These are the novels of unusual violence and political sharpness proves Roth, one of the best political novelists of the century. For the last couple of decades, politics in novels seem more common and it is in the mind of many writers and readers despite being an uncomfortable remnant of the American boom. 

Practices of Bringing Real Names and Characters

Though most writers practice this without resorting to prominent names or illustrious names as protagonists, but rather by narrating a few anonymous names.  But Phillip Roth’s writing has served readers with sacrificial cicero when exploring the national crisis. More precisely, the crisis that led to Vietnam, the paranoid years of McCarthyism, or the politically correct dictatorship that flooded America after the Lewinsky scandal. For all this, Roth has very precisely accustomed to his regulars and the final result of The Plot Against America which might seem disappointing or even disconcerting.

Roth always remains one of the daring novelists who criticize characters of real American history. And this novel is outstandingly presenting his daringness after breaking down this series of historical facts more or less essential to understand America today. Furthermore, he also decided to give an interesting and risky twist to the formula.

Because of the real-life characters, the novel became a part of American history especially with the presidential victory in 1940 of the aviation hero Charles A. Lindbergh. Lindbergh defeated the Democratic candidate and then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Lindbergh is a well-known anti-Semite and supporter of isolationism. Furthermore, is in favour of the upcoming World War II. According to him Jewish child born into a family moderately aware of its Judaism while Americanism should be in a greater value.

Sufferings of the Roth Family

The Plot Against America takes us into the suffering of the Roth family. The Novel has a very delicate narrative, but does Roth’s voice recount? It also gives us a normal itching of incipient puberty of Roth himself. Phillip Roth is usually afraid of the current accession of Lindberg’s bewilderment and perplexity.  

Thus, we came to know about the anger and growing helplessness of Herman, the father of the Roth family. Herman believes, he is an American and remains a fervent supporter of Roosevelt. But everything, as he believes slowly, starts to fade away with the presidential ascension of the famous aviator. Bess, the mother of the Roth family struggles to maintain normality indoors. Because Cousin Alvin is disgusted by the isolationism of the new government. And eventually enlists himself in the Canadian army to fight in Europe. But he returns without a leg and convictions. Roth’s neighbour Seldon, whom Philip repels and who, along with his mother, will be “relocated” by the government to distant Kentucky.

On the other hand, Sandy, four years older than Philip, a talented teenage artist who, captured by an integration program for Jewish children, betrays his family little by little. All these events are happening and the opposing voices face each other. Though not directly, not in a real debate, a one-on-one conversation, but an imaginary arena. Therefore, the conflict is forming in the reader’s head. 

The Slow but Suttle Progress of The Plot Against America

In long, articulated lines, Roth has practically left his footmarks. They are swallowing little by little, poisoned in the long term and small doses in the promising uchrony. The novel progresses in an intelligent slowness but promises much more. To feel real anxiety about the subtle events we can refer to Kafka’s works. With the bureaucratic mechanisms, the government seems to not only sign agreements with Hitler’s Germany but to corner the Jewish citizens of the United States. Here you come to see everything begins to collapse. In a broader perspective, the Jewish anxiety becomes reality.

Roth anchors The Plot Against America using real characters. He interprets public gestures and attitudes using their real biographies. But there is a problem, some of these characters stand out for themselves. With those characters, Roth provided an unnecessary dramatic depth. Maybe he intentionally placed them at the service of his narrative enterprise, so that he can turn them into heroes. Roth’s family initially found some hope with Winchell’s anti-Lindbergh radio speeches.

The confusion at the beginning of the presidential term of Lindbergh comes to light when the journalist is torn from his usual environment. Winchell became a political actor after being fired for a particularly inflammatory speech. But eventually, Roth families hope is shattered when Winchell is torn apart.

In the beginning, the fabric of the fiction has been weaved with painstaking patience and subtlety. But suddenly the reader observes how everything begins to rush incomprehensibly. Suddenly, Roth has to take a detour and an alternative road towards the end. He decides that it is necessary to return to the main highway. 

Roth has resorted to a “transcription”, from news cable language taken from the theatre newscasts that project pre-television world week after week. All these threads untied and re-tied with exaggerated haste. In the meantime, countless popular revolts follow one another. Roth rushed the plotting with a political murder, an inexplicable disappearance of Lindberg, for which different characters have insane explanations. All these events follow the rhythm of a road movie starring Herman and Sandy. They cross three states to rescue little and defenceless Seldom for the sake of regaining “normality”. Moreover, all for the sake that inflicted on the chronological line of the 20th century that goes unnoticed.

Finally, Roth finishes the novel by placing plasters over the wounds of the American Phil-Nazi period. Roosevelt is that plaster who has been able to redirect the country again. For Roth and his family along with many Americans, Roosevelt dispelled the spectre of that bad dream that seems to have been the Lindbergh presidency that carefully constructed The Plot Against America.