Midrash on Goldberg

in European Judaism
Tony Hammond Bromley Reform Synagogue

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The character of Goldberg in Harold Pinter's earliest major play, The Birthday Party, presents an important challenge to us to question his claim to represent 'Jewishness' and instead to understand him as a destructive stereotype of the Jew and Jewishness. This is a challenge which has by and large not been taken up by critics. Goldberg, like Shylock and Fagin and others in the canon of English literature, is a complex, intentionally villainous, but colourful and memorable figure, who, against the relative paucity of other images of Jews and Jewishness, comes to stand for the Jew and reinforce essentially antisemitic stereotypes, even among those who explicitly reject the prejudice. The undefined sense of threat and violence, which from the outset of Pinter's oeuvre has remained a dominant feature, in this play finds some measure of definition through an examination of the character Goldberg, and we can see how destructive stereotypes of our identity held by others, and sustained often by the inattention of the majority, are the fertile soil of violent persecution and cruelty. Created just over a decade after the opening of the death camps, Pinter's Goldberg shows the spectre did not perish with the people.

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European Judaism

A Journal for the New Europe


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