Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Joseph McCullough

Number of Pages



Beginning from the premise that humor plays a prominent role in the construction of group and individual identities, as a social phenomenon and a simultaneously alienating and assimilating force, these essays explore and examine humor and its construction of American Jewish identity within the context of various works of American Jewish fiction. Though organized as "chapters," the essays do not build upon one another progressively, nor do they center on a unified thesis; rather, each is written to stand alone; however, each approaches the general subject of humor and identity in American Jewish fiction, and as a collection it is intended that the whole equal more than the sum of its parts; Following the Introduction, chapter two examines Abraham Cahan's Yekl and the relationship between humor and identity for the Jewish immigrant at the turn of the 20th century. Attention is also paid to the absences of humor, and how these are likewise capable of constructing identity; Chapter three raises questions regarding the ethics of humor, particularly when dealing with the Holocaust. It examines Saul Bellow's The Bellarosa Connection under the guiding question of "What is to be gained by reading this novella?"---with specific attention being given to the connective function of the novella's humor; Bernard Malamud's God's Grace is examined in chapter four, which seeks to read the novel as a retelling of an old Jewish joke, in the form of the story of Abraham and Isaac; Malamud's reversal of the story, and his use of absurdist humor, is read as an affirmation of humanism and Jewish identity; Chapter five examines the humor of Philip Roth and Woody Allen, as representatives of second-generation anxieties about Jewish identity in America; Then, chapters six and seven explore two possible responses to these anxieties. Chapter six looks at the works of the Coen brothers and asserts that Jewishness has been deliberately absented from their narratives; chapter seven looks at the works of Allegra Goodman and Nathan Englander and asserts that, in their fiction, a new, anxiety-free Jewish Self is being constructed, with humor playing a prominent role in this postassimilationism.


American; Essays; Fiction; Humor; Identity; Jewish; Jews; Joke; Jokes

Controlled Subject

American literature; Ethnology--Study and teaching

File Format


File Size

5529.6 KB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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