Bi-Modal Name and Tragicomic Fate: Delmore Schwartz’s Shenandoah Fish and Thane Rosenbaum’s Duncan Katz
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Delmore Schwartz and Thane Rosenbaum are two Jewish American writers with similarly unusual names, bi-modal both in their sonority, the smooth or powerful first name followed by the guttural or trailing last name, and in their ethnic signification, an Anglo first name preceding a strongly Jewish patronymic. It is clear that the future writers’ parents, immigrants all, were trying to endow their sons with American identities, but the outrageous bi-modality of the resulting names undermined that effort, showing instead the children’s alienation from being fully connected to their native land. Schwartz and Rosenbaum explore the effects of having such names through the creation of fictional alter-egos Shenandoah Fish and Duncan Katz, respectively. Schwartz’s verse play Shenandoah and the first chapter of Rosenbaum’s novel Second Hand Smoke both focus on the central character’s naming ceremony, his bris. While each author indicates that fate has dealt his character a heavy hand by investing him with such an appellation, they are also able to see the humorous side of the situation.
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