Humour in Salman Rushdie’s “The Prophet’s Hair” and Philip Roth’s “The Conversion of Jews”

The short stories The Prophet’s Hair by Salman Rushdie and The Conversion of Jews by Philip Roth are quite different and touch upon different subjects. However, they are united by one common feature they are written with humour, which makes people read them in a burst of inspiration. The use of humour always makes books fascinating and easy to read, even if they discuss such important and sometimes philosophical issues as the considered books do.

The Prophet’s Hair is devoted to such eternal questions as human system of values and greed as a human vice. Hashim, a rich moneylender, finds a precious relic a prophet’s hair in a silver small bottle. Though he understands that this valuable thing should be returned to where it had been stolen, he can not overcome his greed and keeps the bottle at home. It does not surprise us that the vial does not bring any happiness to his home, but instead ruins the family’s life. Hashim’s children try to get rid of this relic and because of the guard around it, hire the best thief for an enormous sum of money. However, in the night of the robbery strange and horrible things happen everybody, except the mother, dies, in different circumstances, and the mother goes mad. Thus, the author shows that greed is a devastating vice, which can destroy not only the avaricious person, but his environment as well.

Certainly we understand the author’s opinion of the problem from the plot; however, his attitude to the characters is foregrounded by Rushdie’s humour, or rather irony. Sometimes it is very subtle and we just feel that the author mocks at the situation. For example, the story of a rich idiot who had come looking for a burglar was already common knowledge in those insalubrious gullies (Rushdie 110). Irony fulfills different functions in the book.

Firstly, it helps to express the author’s point of view, taking into account that the whole story is written in a rather derisive tone. Secondly, due to irony the author manages to convey the message of the story easily and unobtrusively.

Being fascinated readers percept the story without any feeling of boredom. As for the Prophet’s hair, well, neither he nor his blind wife had ever had so much to say for prophets that was one thing they had in common with the moneylenders’ clan (Rushdie 115).

The story The Conversion of the Jews by Philip Roth is also distinguished by its humorous tone. As The Prophet’s Hair this story also touches upon a very important issue, which requires serious approach and deep reflection. In the story a Jewish teenager, Ozzie, tries to find answers to questions that can not be answered by adults. He is told that the God is omnipotent, but when he asks why the rabbi and other grown-ups deny the fact of the immaculate conception, nobody answers him. He tries to find out it himself. Being sure of the God’s almightiness, he believes in all miracles, including the possibility of conception of a child without intercourse. However, everybody around him makes him refuse from his thoughts. Consequently, when free-discussion time rolled around none of the students felt too free(Roth, 12).  The more Ozzie tries to examine this question, the more obstacles he faces. People do not want to argue about their religious principles, while Ozzie tries to find the truth and be free in his judgments.

The Conversion of Jews is filled with satire, which is different from the irony, used in The Prophet’s Hair. Here Roth mocks at the stubbornness of the Jews and their inability to manage with a boy and his free thoughts. The author shows their fear before the boy as they instead of talking with Ozzie beat him and shut him up. All the absurdity of the Jews’ behavior is seen in the final scenes of the story. In spite of everything, the boy manages to gain his aim and to make people accept his point of view. Roth satirizes the characters by placing them into rather ridiculous situations. He mocks the hypocrisy of the people around Ozzie, as everything he tries to find out is hidden from him.

In contrast to Rushdie’s story, Roth’s satire does not aim at fascinating readers. It expresses the author’s point of view and his opinion of the Jews’ attitude to religious questions.

Having analyzed two stories, The Prophet’s Hair and The Conversion of Jews, we can make a conclusion that both stories are devoted to very significant questions in our life. In spite of discussing such serious issues, both authors resort to humor for different aims. In The Prophet’s Hair it is irony that makes the book interesting and captivating.

Due to irony we see how Salman Rushdie makes fun of people’s vices at the same time showing the grave consequences of these vices. In The Conversion of the Jews, satire is evident. It contributes much to the message of the story and its perception by readers. The whole story satirizes the behavior of Jews and their hypocrisy.

Leave a Reply