A Narrative Study on The Bellarosa Connection


戏剧之家 2018年4期


Abstract: The publication of The Bellarosa Connection in 1989 won Saul Bellow tremendous warm reception not only because for the first time in his life Bellow meditated upon Jewishness by directly presenting American Jews attitudes towards the Holocaust and Holocaust survivors through the story of Harry Fonstein but also because of the superb narrative techniques Bellow exhibited in this novel. Therefore, the present paper intends to make a narrative study of this novella in terms of characterization, focalization, time.

Keywords: The Bellarosa Connection; characterization; focalization; time

In 1989, Saul Bellow for the first time dealt directly with the theme of the Holocaust and Holocaust survivors in his novel The Bellarosa Connection. It takes the form of the first-person remembrance of the story of Harry Fonstein, a Polish Jew, who lost all of his family during the Nazi persecution and narrowly escaped to America.

E. M Forster in his Aspects of Novel divided characters into two types:“flat”and“round”.On flat characters, Foster suggests that“in their purest form, they are constructed round single idea or quality; when there is more than one factor in them, we get the beginning of the curve towards the round.”[1]Through“my”remembrance of the three major happenings about the Fonstein in the 1940s, 1950s and 1980s, the narrator“I”and Billy Rosa can be grouped as round characters while Harry and Sorella Fonstein the flat ones.

The narrator“I”is grouped as round character because readers are impressed with“my”change through the 1940s, 1950s and 1980s.In the 1940s, at my first encounters with the Fonstein in“my”fathers New Jersey house, even at the age of thirty-two,“I”was still immature, unstable, humanly ignorant and loosely kind,“charged with American puerility…behaved like a twelve-year-old…drifting, a layabout”[2].“I”was irresponsible and immature on treatment with the history of Jews and the Holocaust.“My” reaction towards the past and disaster was that“there were no cattle cars waiting to take us to camps and gas chambers”,“…nothing is resolved by these historical meditations. To think doesnt settle anything.”[3]On the issue of Harry and Sorellatry to reach Billy to express their gratitude for Billys help of Harrys escape from the Nazi prison,“my advice to Fonstein --- given mentally--- was: Forget it. Go America.”[4]Therefore, we see an immature and loose Americanized Jew who wanted to forget the history of Jew and the Holocaust. Then, by the time business brought“me”to Jerusalem and met the Fonstein and Billy Rose in 1950s,“I had moved to Philadelphia and married a Main Line Lady.We lived in a brownstone mansion”,thus,“I”was somehow accomplished and became more mature. Moreover,“I”began the quest of “my” Jewishness at Jerusalem. Therefore,“I”had become more mature than before since I began to quest my Jewishness and started to realize that I couldnt forget the past. However, this quest and realization was painful and perplex that“I wasnt about to get into that.”[5]Then, in the late 1980s, because of a phone call from a rabbi, I telephoned every possible people to get access to the Fonstein. During this period,one night I dreamt that I fell into a dark hole and couldnt crawl out no matter how I tried and I suddenly began to reflect upon myself:“What made the dream terrible was my complete conviction of error.”[6]“I”was reflecting on“my”previous treatment of the history of Jew and“I”realized“I”was wrong in my attitudes towards the Holocaust.However,just as“I”recognized“my”Jewishness and the importance of remembering the history of Jew and the Holocaust and“I was ready after thirty years of silence to open my arms to them”[7],“I”was acknowledged of Harry and Sorellas death. Now“I”had realized the importance of remembering the history and the Holocaust, but problem was how to impress the younger generation of American Jew like Gilbert who had turned from a gifted young boy to a restless gambler and the young man who was narcissistic and pragmatic that keep Fonsteins house for a token legacy about the collecting and holding of the memory, the past, the history and the Holocaust.

Another round character is Billy Rosa who was somehow contradicted. At the very beginning, readers are bombarded with the endless occupation Billy engaged. Billy impressed readers as a flamboyant public figure and a showman. However, it was this showman Billy who operated an Italian organization to rescue Jewish victims like Harry Fonstein from the Nazi prison in the war, thus, casted an image of justice, courage and compassion. There were ambiguities in the reason why he wanted to rescue Jewish victims in the war. When Harry tried every means to meet Billy to express his gratitude, Billy avoided having any entanglement with him. However, in Jerusalem, Billy seemed also connected himself with the Jewish history and the Holocaust as he wanted to set up a memorial in Jerusalem. Then, what explains the difference of his attitudes towards the Jews before and after he rescued them? The reason was the disappointment of the non-action of the American government and the uselessness of the Jewish rabbis that attributed to the contradiction of Billys attitude towards the Jewish victims before and after he rescue them from the prison and the reason why Billy connected those victims and helped them out of the cell and his disconnection of them after they were safe.

Compared with the narrator“I”and Billy Rosa,Harry Fonstein and Sorella Fonestein could be labeled as flat characters.

Harry Fonstein was depicted as a strong-willed,grateful,clever Polish Jew refugee escaped from the Nazi persecution survived the Holocaust.When“I”first encountered Harry,Fonstein impressed“me”as firm,determined and shrewd.Harry Fonstein was clever and strong-willed as he picked up Italian,Spanish,English and he tried every business in order to survive.He was a grateful man that he tried every means to get access to thank Billy.And the reason lied behind his persistence to thank Billy was his remembrance of the past,of the Holocaust.

And Sorella Fonstein was also a flat character that she was talkative, out-going, spirited,dynamic and a tiger wife/mother.Readers found her spirited and dynamic easily in her conversation with“I”.She was a tiger wife and mother could be traced in her appearance that“she was very heavy and she wore makeup.Her cheeks were downy.Her hair done up in a beehive.A princenez,highly,a deliberate disguise,gave her a theatrical air”.[8]She was courageous and clever that she coerced Billy to meet her husband with the diary of Missus Hamet and when Billy refused to meet or telephone Harry, Sorella hurled Missus Hamets deadly dossier at him.

From the above analysis, the traits of the narrator“I”and Billy Rosa were dynamic and changing with the text while Harry and Sorella Fonstein s traits were static, therefore,“I”and Billy were round characters while Harry and Sorella were flat characters.

In narration, the objects are often perceived from certain point of view. Genettes term for this inescapable adoption of a (limited) perspective in narrative,a viewpoint from which things are seen,felt,understood,assessed,is focalization.Michael J.Toolan proposes there were two types of focalization:external focalization and internal focalization. Rimmon- Kenan divides the facets of focalization into perceptual,psychological and ideological.[9]

Thus,the narrator in The Bellarosa Connection was“I”in the 1980s who was meditative and mature,and“I”in the three major happenings was internal focalizer of what happened in 1940s,1950s and on the last March in 1980s,and Harry,Sorella,my father and my mother in the first happenings,Harry,Sorella and Billy in the second happenings,the young man who kept Fonsteins house were all the focalized.However,in the first happening,when Harry and Sorella retold how Billy rescued him,Harry became the internal focalizer and focalized,and Billy the focalized,and “I”the external focalizer.In the second happening,when Sorella told “I” the diary of Missus Hamet and her confrontation with Billy,Sorella became the internal focalizer and focalized,Missus Hamet and Billy,the focalized and “I” the external focalizer.And in the last happening,the young man told “I” the story of the Fonstein,the young man became the internal focalizer and the Fonstein the focalized,and “I” the external focalizer.Since in all these three happenings,“I” was both a character and focalizer of the happenings, thus, the narrative is achieved through internal focalization. How the characters looked like, what they said and did were all focalized, therefore, there is perceptual focaliztion.And focalizer “I” evaluated the characters and happenings during the narration of the story of the Fonstein and how “I” evaluated had much to do with “my”ideology, therefore,can be labeled as psychological and ideological focaliztion.

The most influential theorist of text time is Gerard Genette, who isolates three major aspects of temporal manipulation or articulation in the movement from story to text: order, duration, frequency.[10]

Any departures in the order of presentation in the text from the order in which events evidently occurred in the story are termed by Genette as anachronies.They naturally divide into flashback and flashforwardsm or what Genette calls analepses and prolepses.[11]And in The Bellarosa Connection,analepses are achieved by “my” remembrance of the Fonstein and the dialogues while characters retold what had happened before. As Bal made some observation of analepses that “the repetition of a previously described event usually serve to change, or add to,the emphasis on the meaning of that event”, while “I” retold the story of the Fonstein,“I” had made “my” own judgment and evaluation on the event both in “my” way of presenting the story and also the comments and reflections “I” made interspersed within the dialogues. The present remembrance of the past is a reflection on the past, past and present interwoven in the narration of the story, thus, revealing that past is present and also the future.

The present paper makes a narrative study of The Bellarosa Connection in terms of characterization, narrator and focalization,time.It can be found that Bellows skillfully utilize his superb narrative techniques to solidify and enhance the expressions of the themes reflected in The Bellarosa Connection.Readers are left to reflect on the connection and disconnection of the Jew, the Jews attitudes towards the Holocaust survivors and the Holocaust, the Americanization and assimilation of American Jew,the emptiness of the modern American life,past and present by this novella.


[1]E.M.Forster,Aspects of Novel[M].New York: Penguin Classics,2006:61.

[2][3][4][5][6][7][8]Saul Bellow.The Bellarosa Connection[M].New York:Penguin,1989:5,24,29,37,87,101,6

[9][11]Michael J.Toolan.Narrative A Critical Introduction[M].London and New York:Routledge,1988:72,50.

[10]Toolan Michael J.,Narrative A Critical Introduction[M].Routledge:London and New York,1988:49.


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