Study Guide

Goodbye, Columbus

By Philip Roth

Goodbye, Columbus Introduction

You know the saying "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree"? People usually use it to refer to children who are strangely similar to their parents, but the same could be said for some authors and their books. Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth is one of those books (or novellas, to be more specific).

Roth was born into a Jewish family in Newark, New Jersey, where much of the novella is set. Short Hills is a real suburb in New Jersey, and some of its residents didn't take kindly to the way it was depicted in the story.

Goodbye, Columbus is your classic summer-to-fall romance with lots of provocative social commentary and biting, yet tender, wit. The novella was first published in 1959 in a collection called—you guessed it—Goodbye, Columbus and Five Other Stories, which won the prestigious National Book Award. Roth was only twenty-six years old, and it was his first book. Talk about a homerun. Still, that's not to say it wasn't met with controversy.

Some in the Jewish community found Roth's portrayal of Jewish people in Goodbye, Columbus to be liberating because it showed them as complex, flawed human beings, but others were appalled at the book's Jewish characters. Only about fourteen years had passed since the end of World War II and the Holocaust. Many Jewish people were still reeling with fear that any "negative" portrayals of Jews could be extremely dangerous to Jewish wellbeing… and to be honest, we don't blame them for feeling a little wary.

But Roth was never one to hold back. Ten years later in 1969, he published his most famous novel, Portnoy's Complaint, which is notorious for its frank and hilarious depictions of masturbation.

When asked to explain his true-to-life portrayal of Jewish characters, Roth said:

The story is by no means about Jews. It's about individuals who happen to be Jewish. There is a kind of reverse prejudice that says all Jews are good, all Catholics are good, all N****es are good, all any minority are good. (source)

This might be helpful to remember when reading Goodbye, Columbus.

Roth is still a controversial figure among Jewish people, and there is a fair amount of "love him or hate him" involved. He's received dozens of fellowships and awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for American Pastoral in 1997, and the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2002. He taught English and writing in various colleges until 1992 and is known for his humor, daring style, and verbal prowess. A masterful storyteller by all accounts, he provocatively opens doors for discussions of civil rights, class, religion, sexuality, and just about every other hot-button issue.

What is Goodbye, Columbus About and Why Should I Care?

Goodbye, Columbus will satisfy those inner cravings for a poolside summer romance, while still engaging your serious side, the literary equivalent of a warm night spent looking at the stars… with Sigmund Freud. On top of that, most people can relate to the basic questions that drive Neil Klugman (the protagonist), such as "What do I want to be when I grow up?" and "What am I supposed to do with my life?" You've probably been asking yourself things like that since before kindergarten. Even if you've managed to find your calling, you might still, from time to time, question your choice and wonder if you should be doing something different. If all that isn't enough, you can read Goodbye, Columbus for the laughs. Roth uses everything from sex to language to religion as fodder for this brilliant comedy.

Goodbye, Columbus Resources

Websites

The Philip Roth Society
You don't have to be a member to access this excellent Roth site.

Articles and Interviews

Philip Roth News
Check out The New York Times's page on Roth for lots of helpful resources.

Winning the Pulitzer Prize
In 1988 Roth won the Pulitzer Prize in literature for his novel American Pastoral.

"The Varnished Truths of Philip Roth"
An article from Time.

"'Goodbye, Columbus': Roth's Portrait of the Narcissist as a Young Man"
A critical essay.

A review of Goodbye, Columbus, and Five Short Stories
This is from way back in 1959, from The New York Times.

A Voice of America Discussion of Roth
Lots of nice pictures.

"'Goodbye, Columbus': Neil's Farewell to the American Dream"
A critical essay on the novella.

Birth Control Timeline
If you are interested in the "Women's Issues" theme of Goodbye, Columbus, this timeline from PBS will be an invaluable resource. Of course, birth control is a men's issue too, but Roth examines it as a woman's issue in this novella.

Introduction of Philip Roth
Funny man Steve Martin's introduction of Philip Roth as he wins the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, 2002.

Noa Noa: The Tahiti Journal of Paul Gauguin
If you want to know more about Gauguin and his time in Tahiti, here are his journals, complete with woodcarvings.

Movie and TV Productions

The Great American Novel
In its analysis of the American Novel,PBS's American Masters series takes a look at Roth's works. 

Movie or TV Productions

The 1969 Film
Nominated for many awards, including an Oscar, this film won a Golden Globe. Much of the dialogue is word-for-word from the book, and it's great fun to see what's been added and what's been taken away.

Video

A Clip From the Film
This is the swimming pool scene.

Philip Roth On Aging
"I don't feel any wiser than I was…"

Part One of An Interview
From 2006.

Part Two of An Interview
Roth discusses America.

An Interview
Roth is interviewed by Jeffrey Brown

Audio

An NPR Interview
Roth talks about his novel Everyman.

Jewish Shouting Mix
Here's a chance to listen to the Roth ringtone we told you about.

Images

Brenda and Neil at the Pool
A steamy still from the movie.

Roth in 1964
Is he bored, tired, what?

Behind Glass
More young Roth.

Roth at Home
Looks nice! Can we come visit?

A Photo
Roth in New York City.

The DVD Cover
A true classic.

Books

Goodbye, Columbus and Five Other Stories
The Vintage Books edition.

Goodbye, Columbus and Five Other Stories
The Knopf, Doubleday edition.

Goodbye, Columbus and Five Other Stories
The Modern Library Edition.