Study Guide

Everything Is Illuminated Sex

By Jonathan Safran Foer


Sexual prowess and masculinity are often closely intertwined. We see it in literature (like Love in the Time of Cholera) and in films (umm, Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo?)—and we see it in Everything is Illuminated. Alex, who is Ukrainian, also believes that it's important to be sexually promiscuous in order to be seen as masculine. This must run deep in the culture, because in the story Jonathan crafts about his Grandfather, Safran sleeps with pretty much everyone who moves. It must skip a generation (or two), though: the sexiest thing we see Jonathan do is peer down a waitress's blouse.

Questions About Sex

  1. Why does Alex brag about his sexual activity? What prompts him to tell the truth?
  2. Why does Safran sleep with so many women? Does he enjoy it?
  3. Why do Brod and the Kolker have sex through a hole in the wall? Why doesn't she just go into the bedroom with him?
  4. Are Ukrainian attitudes toward sex different than American attitudes, at least the way Jonathan presents them? How do the sexual attitudes of the shtetl compare with modern-day sexual attitudes?

Chew on This

Alex thinks that being sexually promiscuous makes him a more "premium" person; however, he ironically thinks that Safran should settle down and love just one woman. At heart, he believes in love more than sex.

In Everything is Illuminated, love matters more than sex. That's why Safran can't orgasm during sex—he doesn't love anyone he has sex with.