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A Fraternal Visit
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A Fraternal Visit





Indignation

There were twelve fraternities on the campus, but only two admitted Jews, one a small all-Jewish fraternity with about fifty members and the other a nonsectarian fraternity about half that size, founded locally by a group of student idealists, who took in anyone they could get their hands on. The remaining ten were reserved for white Christian males, an arrangement that no one could have imagined challenging on a campus that so prided itself on tradition.

[...] One evening two members of the Jewish fraternity knocked on the door of the room while Elwyn and I were studying and asked if I could come out to have a talk with them at the Owl, the student hangout and coffee shop. I stepped into the corridor and closed the door behind me so as not to disturb Elwyn. “I don’t think I’m going to join a fraternity,” I told them. “Well, you don’t have to,” one of them replied. He was the taller of the two and stood several inches taller than me and had that smooth, confident, easygoing way about him that reminded me of all those magically agreeable, nice-looking boys who’d served as president of the Student Council back in high school and were worshiped by girlfriends who were star cheerleaders or drum majorettes. [...] While talking to him I had deliberately to look away, his features were so perfect and his looks that humbling, that shaming — that significant. “Why don’t you have dinner at the house some night?” he asked me. “Come tomorrow night. It’s roast beef night. You’ll have a good meal, and you’ll meet the brothers, and there’s no obligation to do anything else.” “No,” I said. “I don’t believe in fraternities.” “Believe in them? What is there to believe in or not believe in? A group of like-minded guys come together for friendship and camaraderie. We play sports together, we hold parties and dances, we take our meals together. It can be awfully lonely here otherwise. You know that out of twelve hundred students on this campus, less than a hundred are Jewish. That’s a pretty small percentage. If you don’t get into our fraternity, the only other house that’ll have a Jew is the nonsectarian house, and they don’t have much going for them in the way of facilities or a social calendar. Look, to introduce myself — my name is Sonny Cottler.” A mere mortal’s name, I thought. How could that be, with those flashing black eyes and that deeply cleft chin and that helmet of wavy dark hair? And so confidently fluent besides. “I’m a senior,” he said. “I don’t want to pressure you. But our brothers have noticed you and seen you around, and they think you’d make a great addition to the house. You know, Jewish boys have only been coming here in any numbers since just before the war, so we’re a relatively new fraternity on campus, and still we’ve won the Interfraternity Scholarship Cup more times than any other house at Winesburg. We have a lot of guys who study hard and go on to med school and law school. Think about it, why don’t you? And give me a ring at the house if you decide you want to come over and say hello. If you want to stay for dinner, all the better.”

The following night I had a visit from two members of the nonsectarian fraternity. [...] The Negro said, “I’m Bill Quinby, and this is the other Bill, Bill Arlington. We’re from Xi Delta, the nonsectarian fraternity.”

“Before you go any further,” I said, “I’m not joining a fraternity. I’m going to be an independent.”

Bill Quinby laughed. “Most of the guys in our fraternity are guys who weren’t going to join a fraternity. Most of the guys in our fraternity aren’t guys who think like the ordinary male student on campus.”

Indignation, Philip Roth, 2008.
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Questions

a) What do you learn about the fraternities at this university? How does tradition affect the composition of these groups?


b) How is the frat member described? What is the relationship between frats and popularity?


c) What is implied here? Which persuasion device is used among the ones below? Justify.

manipulation threat humor promises


d) List all the positive effects that joining a frat will have on the main character’s social life according to Sonny.


e) What does the use of the words “negro” here and “nonsectarian” there tell you about the era the text is set in?


f) What is the main character’s argument for refusing to join? Explain why.
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