Commentary Magazine


Analyzing Fagin

To the Editor:

The introduction of the psychoanalytic approach into literary discussion is generally pettifogging and corrosive. Steven Marcus’s article [“Who Is Fagin?” July '62] is a happy, brilliant exception.

I should, however, like to offer one minor criticism—which, I believe, strengthens Mr. Marcus’s thesis: In his closing paragraph he writes: “. . . the part of Fagin which is Jewish turns out to be not merely minor but almost fortuitous, or . . . curiously unpremeditated. . . .” In the light of Mr. Marcus’s own sensitive perceptions, I think that Fagin’s Jewishness is not minor—and, though certainly unpremeditated, is not curious. As any psychoanalyst can testify, the Jew is a symbol of sexual freedom (“evil”) for the Gentile (just as the Gentile is a symbol of sex-and-evil for the Jew).

It is quite of a piece therefore that Fagin should have in his character Oliver’s (Dickens’s) sexuality as well as his other lusty but socially reprehensible qualities. Especially since, as Mr. Marcus shows so clearly, Fagin is not only the suppressed Dickens but Dickens’s Oedipean father.

Arthur Steig
Lakewood, New Jersey

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