ABSTRACT

The persistence of blood imagery throughout Philip Roth's Indignation is undeniable, yet surprisingly few critics have offered a sustained interpretation of its meaning. I suggest here that what has been overlooked in recent criticism of the novel is that these images of blood are inseparable from the novel's representation of and commentary on ritual. Drawing from Catherine Bell's theories of ritual and ritualization, I propose that Roth uses blood imagery to emphasize those moments where occasions of ritualization profane the sacred ritual from which they arise. Specifically, I argue that the novel's subversions of both religious and secular ritual point to the consequences of an overextension of ritual, as the blood-marked scenes highlight instances in which ritualization serves to imbue actions and events with an exaggerated cultural meaning that is often constructed on a false sense of tradition or authority.

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