“It couldn’t find them here”

Philip Roth’s Nemesis¬†gives us a glimpse into the lives of the residents of the polio-stricken neighborhood of Weequahic. We are introduced to several characters in the course of the story, each displaying a unique relation to the world on the basis of their understanding of polio.

Indian Hill was a means of escape for Bucky, a safe haven to be with his love, Marcia and far away from the contagion. Everyone in the story appears to be running away from polio. It almost makes it seem like polio is hunting them down. Polio becomes a hunter, out in search of its next victim. Marcia even exclaims “How could it possibly hunt them down here?” ( 229).

I imagine that polio takes on an avatar of the grim reaper. No on escapes from death. One is never aware of the arrival of death. In the same way, no one knew when they would become a victim of polio. This probably made it an even scarier ordeal for the residents in the story.

The idea of the hunter is particularly interesting, considering that the nation was in a state of war. Soldiers are almost like hunters, entering foreign territories with the aim of hunting down the enemy, and the prize of the hunt being the victory in battle.

The American polio epidemic was a difficult time in medical history. This is the link to a 1940s Polio Epidemic Fundraising Film which recounts the difficulties of treating the multitude of ill and the use of iron lungs.

Just imagine if we did not have the polio vaccine in the present day? What horrors would we be witness to?

Happy reading!


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