Point of View and Narration
This story is narrated from the first person restricted point of view. Neil Klugman is both the narrator and the protagonist and everything is portrayed from his perspective. This is effective because this is a story about identity and self-discovery; what is important is how Neil perceives himself and his relationships with others, particularly Brenda, and how these perceptions change over the course of the story.
This story is set during the 1950s in Newark, New Jersey, the New York City metropolitan area, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. The settings are important in establishing the class divisions between Neil’s family and Brenda’s family. The geography of the city becomes a map of socioeconomic divisions. For instance, Brenda’s family used to live in Newark, where Neil now lives with his aunt and uncle. This information indicates that the Patimkins once shared the socioeconomic standing that Neil’s family holds but moved their way up the socioeconomic ladder, as indicated by their current residence in the suburbs. Areas of New Jersey and New York are also described in terms of the flow of particular ethnic populations throughout the century in and out of particular neighborhoods and socioeconomic strata within the city.
Roth’s story is smattered with Yiddish words and expressions, which capture the flavor of Jewish culture. The use or non-use of Yiddish words by various characters in the story is significant in indicating their relationship to Jewish identity. For instance, Mr. Patimkin uses the Yiddish word “gonif,” which Neil knows means “thief.” Mr. Patimkin comments that his own children do not know Yiddish; they are so assimilated into mainstream American society that he refers to them as “goyim”—a Yiddish term which is a derogatory expression for non-Jewish people. Other Yiddish words that appear in the story are “jahrzeit,” “schmuck,” “mazeltov,” “shtarke,” “poilishehs,” and “schmaltz.”
Allegory and Symbolism
An allegory is a use of figurative language in which the literal elements are meant to be interpreted symbolically. A central allegory of this story is indicated by the title “Goodbye, Columbus,” which refers to the Columbus album which Brenda’s brother Ron plays for Neil. The album is a narrated yearbook account of Ron’s senior year in college at Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, which ends with the nostalgic song lyric, “Goodbye, Columbus.” Although the song and the album narration are about the nostalgia of the college graduate for his alma mater, it takes on an allegorical meaning in speaking to Neil’s sense of loss and nostalgia at the ending of his relationship with Brenda.
This story is in the form of the novella— sometimes referred to as a novelette—meaning that it is shorter than a novel but longer than a short story. The form of the novella originated in medieval Italy, where it was characterized by tales based on local occurrences. In England, Geoffrey Chaucer is credited with having introduced the novella form through his Canterbury Tales. The novella is often characterized by a “frame narrative,” in which the narrator is a character who is telling the story or series of stories. The development of both the modern novel and the modern short story was in part influenced by the novella form.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Philip Roth, Published by Gale Group, 2001.