Essay about Cynthia Ozick’s story Envy or, Yiddish in America

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"Envy": Cynthiz Ozick Meets Melanie Klein

Cynthia Ozick’s story “Envy; or, Yiddish in America” shows the corrosive effects of envy on the life of the lonely, aging Yiddish poet Edelshtein. Edelshtein is consumed with envy of Ostrover, a famous Yiddish novelist known from English translations of his stories. He feels that Ostrover has both cuckolded him and bested him in literary success. Edelshtein believes he could become as famous as Ostover if he too had a translator into English. Without the translator, he fears his poems will die along with him and the dying Yiddish language. The story seems to illustrate the psychological insights of Melanie Klein about the unconscious mechanisms behind envy: “I consider that envy is an
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And Edelshtein writes,
“Mamaloshen doesn’t produce Wastelands. No alienation, no nihilism, no dadism”
(Ozick163). But aside from their insights and eloquence, both men are also cuckolds and shlimazels, obsessed and half-crazy, consumed with jealousy or envy and the desire for revenge, and both compose many mental letters they never send. What
Gersbach is for Herzog, Ostover is for Edelshtein. The difference is that Herzog is twenty years younger than Edelshtein, has family and friends and more inner resources, and thus is more capable of love and of recovery. Herzog ends with the hero at peace, in the summertime in the country, putting his house in order, and awaiting the visit of a woman who loves him. “Envy” ends with the hero in the winter in
New York City, alone and embittered, raging on the phone at an anti-Semite. Herzog matures a bit in the course of the narrative, but Edelshtein, despite being much older than Herzog, is prevented from growing up by the force of his all-consuming envy.
Edelshtein is in many ways sympathetic, a little guy struggling to survive, lost in
America. Although, as the opening sentence says, Edelshtein has been “an American for forty years,” he is not really American but feels like a displaced person (129). He talks with an accent, and he cannot write poetry in English. There is no old country to which he can return, for the European Jewish culture and the Yiddish language has

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