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The Plot Against America

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The Plot Against America by Philip Roth is an alternate history of the 1940 election in which Roosevelt is defeated by Charles Lindbergh. The novel provides both an alternate history and the point of view of the author, who has embedded himself and his real family into the story along with other historical figures. Because Lindbergh has become president, America did not take part in the war. Young Philip Roth's cousin, Alvin, goes off to Canada to fight against Nazi Germany and loses his leg. This event marks a significant change in the main characters of the story, including Philip, and Alvin's stump leg becomes an important symbol throughout the novel.

There are different dimensions of 'the stump'. First, the stump, literally, was what Alvin's leg was referred to after the lower half had been blown off in the war: "the blunt remnant of something whole that belonged there and once had been there (136)." The stump was an appalling and fearsome, yet fascinating, subject to the young Philip Roth. Secondly, the stump served as a symbol; A symbol of injustice, cruelty, loss of innocence, fear and the inability to control the unforeseen.

The stump symbolized something different for each of the characters. For Alvin, it was a loss of his way of life after he lost his leg in the war against Hitler. It also represented a change in attitude, where Alvin gave up what he had once considered his patriotic duty of fighting Nazism. After losing his leg, Alvin transformed. First, he became angry about his circumstances. Once he learned to cope with his loss, he became a mischievous delinquent despite everything that his aunt and uncle had done for him by taking him in.

For Philip, the stump symbolized a loss of innocence. All at once, in viewing his cousin's lost limb, Philip learned that the world was changing and that people close to him could be hurt in an instant. In a way, the stump forced him to grow up, as he does rather quickly throughout the rest of the novel. His first views of the stump shock and appall him: "I couldn't bear Alvin because of his missing limb and his empty trouser leg... (134)" Progressively, however, he sees it as his responsibility to take care of Alvin's stump. Philip becomes obsessed with caring for Alvin in any way that he can. He even practices bandaging his own leg in order to help Alvin with his bandages.

Initially, the sight of Alvin's stump disturbed Philip:

"The left trouser leg dropped straight down from the knee, a sight generally familiar to adults but one that startled me, even though I already knew of a man with no legs at all, who...was himself no more than a stump...Overwhelmed as I was by the colossal freakishness, I'd never had to think much about it since there was never any danger of his coming to live in our house (127-128)."

Alvin's return from the Canadian hospital sparks a memory of a man with no legs that Philip and his father had encountered previously, known as Little Robert (127). Phil's past encounter with Little Robert enlightened him to the idea that the world could be cruel to normal people. "I discovered that the grotesque injustice of a man's being halved had not merely happened, which was incomprehensible enough, but happened to someone called Robert, as commonplace as a male name could be and six letters long, like my own (128)."

While the sight of a stump was not new to Philip, the sight of Alvin's stump shocked Philip. He was afraid of the limb that was missing, and afraid of Alvin, as if his missing limb had transformed him into something horrible. He could not at first grasp the idea that Alvin was not something atrocious because of his loss. He also was shocked to see someone that he had once looked up to in such a vulnerable, and irreversible, position.

The stump not only affected Philip; it affected his family members as well. Herman Roth, Philip's father, went to visit Alvin in the Army hospital in Montreal. Seeing all the injured and sick soldiers, especially Alvin, caused Herman to break down into

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