Passionate Women, Passive Men

Suicide in Yiddish Literature

By Janet Hadda

Subjects: Jewish Studies, Literary Criticism
Series: SUNY series in Modern Jewish Literature and Culture
Paperback : 9780887065972, 224 pages, January 1988
Hardcover : 9780887065958, 224 pages, February 1988

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Suicide is always a controversial issue. Among Jews, it is often taboo. Stereotypically, Jews do not commit suicide; certainly, they do not discuss it. Passionate Women, Passive Men: Suicide in Yiddish Literature challenges this perception, exploring the problem of suicide through a series of literary case studies. Hadda investigates the lives of these fictional suicides, asking the question: What could be so wrong in a person's life that suicide—although forbidden by the Jewish religion—would seem preferable?

Proceeding from the theoretical standpoint that the psychoanalytic process concerns narratives and their interpretations by an analyst, the author argues that the techniques of psychoanalysis may be fruitfully employed for the study of literature. Through sensitive psychoanalytic attention to narrative nuance, the author reaches surprising conclusions about the function of suicide for the characters she analyzes.

Janet Hadda is Associate Professor of Yiddish at UCLA.


"This is a book that could not have been conceived, never mind written, even a decade ago. It uses central texts from the canon of Yiddish letters, applies a sophisticated psychoanalytic methodology to them, and arrives at a set of questions which will set the course of the criticism of Yiddish letters in a new direction. " —Sander L. Gilman, Cornell University

"The author has provided highly original readings of both familiar and virtually unknown Yiddish novels. In suggesting an entirely new framework for these novels, she has presented a controversial and consistently interesting view. In addition to the specific claims she makes for these readings, her approach is an excellent example of the surprises which Yiddish texts can reveal through a broadening of methodology. " — Anita Norich, University of Michigan