Fact or Fiction?

Philip Roth, the author of Nemesis, is a native of Weequahic, Newark. Presumably, Roth based the description of the playground on his own experiences as a child in Weequahic. The fact that the author is extremely familiar with the setting of the novel invites us to question the truth behind the events of the novel. According to this article there was no Polio outbreak in Newark during 1944. There were however, outbreaks of Polio prior to and after the year of 1944. In 1916 “fewer than 2000 children contracted the disease”. Futhermore, Polio struck Newark again in 1952 when approximately 3000 people died as a result of the disease. It seems as if Roth was interested in writing about a fictional outbreak during the second world war. The contrast between a war in Europe and a war on the home-front (against Polio) is key to the novel and ties into Bucky’s thoughts regarding fate and God.

Furthermore, the article mentioned also looks into the possibility that Bucky Cantor is in fact based on an actual Bucky Harris (a gym teacher in Philip Roth’s childhood school). Apparently Philip Roth has a tendency to base characters in his novels on actual people in his life. In an interview, however, Philip Roth dispels this possibility, stating it was a mere coincidence. Bucky was, according to Roth, the product of his imagination and represented the stereotypical American hero. One a completely unrelated note, could it be possible that Bucky is based off Bucky, the sidekick to Captain America? Although this is a stretch of the imagination it is interesting to consider the implications.

It was discussed at some point if Roosevelt, arguably Polio’s most famous survivor, actually had the disease. While Roosevelt did contract a paralytic disease it is debated whether or not it was actually Poliomyelitis or another very similar disease, Guillain–Barré syndrome. It is interesting to consider the fact that the man who essentially led the American war effort during the Second World War suffered from a paralytic disease. Yet again we see connections being drawn between the struggle against the Germans and the struggle against the disease. Are they two different struggles?



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