Friday, September 7, 2012
EXPLICATION DE TEXTE
I had an email asking me what the pun is in the title of Philip Roth's novel, Portnoy's Complaint. Okay, so that is a bald-faced lie. Nobody asked. I just wanted to explain [this might be taken as an instance of "The Teacher's Complaint."] The title is a double pun: First of all, there is the medical sense of complaint, as represented by Roth's faux medical definition at the beginning of the novel of what is bothering Portnoy. Second, there is the fact that Portnoy's is perpetually complaining about his mother, who seems to be the real, albeit hidden, focus of his obsessive sexual fantasies. Finally, in 16th century English poetry, a "lover's complaint" is a poem in which the poet, addressing his beloved, bemoans the fact that she does not requite his passion. All in all, a rather witty title.