“Grotesquery to the Surface”: The Leo Frank Case and Philip Roth’s The plot against America revisited in trump’s alt-right America

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This essay returns to the story of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory owner lynched in 1915 by a mob that catalyzed the regrettable reemergence of the KKK. Philip Roth describes the lynching of Frank in his alternative history, The Plot Against America (2004), and reading the historical event alongside the novel furnishes a means to see how deeply the interconnection between hatreds flows in the United States more than one hundred years later and to help unpack some of what we suffer now. A through-line exists between the KKK then and Trump-era white supremacist groups now. This article contends that while focusing on questions of Jewishness and its representations is crucial, we also need to work cross-racially/culturally in order to understand and thus combat the logics of white supremacy. The case of Leo Frank and the diatribes and hate speeches that ultimately fueled his lynching highlight the long historical imbrication of Blackness and Jewishness in the United States, which then, in turn, fed Nazi propaganda. Understanding what has been unleashed under Trump and exploring ways that Jewish studies scholars can address multiple forms of white supremacy requires an historically informed approach to the concurrent and mutually-fueling rise in racism and antisemitism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number751603
Pages (from-to)44-72
Number of pages29
JournalStudies in American Jewish Literature
Volume39
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Jewishness
  • Leo Frank
  • Philip Roth
  • Spike Lee
  • Trump

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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