The 1944 Polio Epidemic of Newark, New Jersey during World War II
693 WordsFeb 22, 20183 Pages
In Nemesis, Philip Roth constructs a dynamic between disease and a reinvention of the self through Bucky Cantor’s attempts at heroism. Set in the 1944 polio epidemic of Newark, New Jersey during World War II, the novel tells the story of a young man, Bucky, whose town lives in a state of fear of the disease. Bucky’s futile attempts to overcome the fear of this deadly pestilence and become a hero ultimately bring him to his downfall. Through Bucky’s endeavors, the disease consumes him, both literally and metaphorically, which leads to his failure to achieve the manhood and heroism he craves. Though these themes are presented in several points in the novel, a scene where Bucky becomes spends time with his girlfriend, Marcia, serves to highlight his childish naivety and fear of the situation that is brought about by his strong fixation on the polio epidemic. It becomes apparent that these factors block his path toward manhood, making him vulnerable to the evils of disease, and preventing him from becoming the man he expects himself to be.
Bucky’s preoccupation with polio and fear of the disease are some of the key factors that hinder his ability to reinvent himself into the soldier-like heroic figure of his hometown. In the particular scene where Marcia leads Bucky to her cabin in the middle of the night, Bucky is too engrossed in his survivor’s guilt and fear of polio to enjoy spending time with Marcia.
In this scene, there are several moments where Bucky’s overwhelming