Title

Here in New Jersey : place in the fiction of Philip Roth, Richard Ford, and Junot Díaz.

Date of Award

5-1-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

School

Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Letters

Abstract

This dissertation argues that three Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, Philip Roth, Richard Ford, and Junot Díaz--a native, a transplant, and a migrant to New Jersey--convey the impact of place on their characters in an immediate and compelling way. The New Jersey neighborhoods they evoke--a Jewish enclave, a largely white suburb, and an immigrant ghetto--crucially affect their characters' destinies. The introduction defines some narrative elements of "place," presents examples of its use in literary fiction set in New Jersey, and lays the groundwork for close readings of the fiction of Roth, Ford, and Díaz. Each chapter applies to the author's fiction some of the narrative elements defined in the introduction. The chapter on Roth examines the ambience of his Newark neighborhood and its consequences upon his narrators' identities, their feelings of belonging or of alienation, and their ambivalence about whether to stay or leave. While Roth returns to Newark repeatedly in his stories, some of the narrators abandon the place precisely because of its effect on them. The chapter on Ford examines the influence of place on the destiny of his narrator, Frank Bascombe. Frank, a Southern transplant to New Jersey, claims at first that "place means nothing"; he concludes that New Jersey "gives him something" and is where he belongs and wants to stay. The chapter on Díaz investigates the effect of dual places, the Dominican Republic and New Jersey, on the identity and destiny of Yunior, the narrator. The main ramification of place on Yunior's writing is his determination to bear witness to immigrants' voices that have gone unheard, "to sing my community out of silence." The conclusion shows that, despite the differences among the authors in terms of temperament, background, style, and theme, their reactions to place--the narrators' degrees of ambivalence and alienation and concerns about assimilation--have much in common and contribute to the understanding of the primary role of place in fiction and its repercussions upon characters' identities. In sum, place is character is destiny.