The Jewish Heritage

In Adrienne Rich`s short essay Split at the Root: An Essay on Jewish Identity, Adrienne discusses her Jewish heritage. While her father is Jewish, her mother is a gentile, a Christian, in other words. Because of this, Adrienne does not consider herself to be a true Jewish woman. Because of her upbringing in the 1930`s and 1940`s South, Rich was taught that being a Jewish person was bad and being Christian good. She never really got a taste of actually being Jewish until she went away from home to college in the North. Even her father didn`t like being Jewish because everyone made fun of them, he did not believe in organized religion and this was why. He believed that the intellect of a person was better than religion. Back in the 1940`s the world was very anti-Semitic and racist and portrayed Jews as being cheap, but also incredibly smart. Adrienne Rich`s father never told her about the anti-Semitism he encountered as a boy. As a little girl, she never felt to fit in with being a Christian, never liked going to church. She felt bad that she was a lesbian, as well, because she thought it went against the Christian religion. Her mother expected her to be a good, Southern, Christian girl, and there she was, not fitting into the standards of the time. When Adrienne Rich went away for college, she was exposed to, for the first time, what being a Jewish woman was like. She read up on the Holocaust and what the Nazi`s did to her people.

However, as she started learning more about her own people, she still felt embarrassed that people thought she was a Jew, as when the old Holocaust survivor woman who worked in the store demonstrated, when she asked if Adrienne was Jewish. Rich even wrote, “But I was an American college girl having her skirt hemmed. And I was frightened myself, I think, because she had recognized me…But why should she have felt safe with me? I myself was living with a false sense of safety.” (56-57) She was too ashamed to admit to herself that she was indeed Jewish. She even married a Jewish man and had three kids with him, even though she didn`t actually like the man, just to prove that she was the good, southern, lady her mother wanted her to be.  She finally admitted to herself , in the 1980`s, that no label had a hold of her. She was neither Jewish, nor Christian. Adrienne considered it as a sort of new beginning for her…to live her life the way she wanted to live it and not how anyone else wanted her to. She was finally free.


4 thoughts on “The Jewish Heritage

  1. I definitely agree with the fact that once Rich accepted who she was, she started a new life and she finally became happy and satisfied in her own shoes.

  2. I agree that she hide who she truly was to make others happy and also to blend in. Are you glad as a reader that she started to live as the women who was not Jewish nor christian, but a woman who was lesbian? As a reader, I felt that the correct thing was to be who she really wanted to be and not categorize herself in the identity of a Jew just to please society.

    • I was glad at the fact that she didn’t appease to what society wanted and became her own shouldn’t matter what religion you should only matter if you are happy with yourself..

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