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Miller turns, for his setting, to the grim days of the Salem witch trials, and brings into focus an issue that still weighs heavily on the American civilization: the problem of guilt by association. Historical fiction.
Lawrence Newman is an ordinary man living in an ordinary neighborhood. He just wants to lead a quiet life; the possibility of violence against others such as the Jewish candy store owner on the corner may excite him but he would rather be an observer than a participant. Then he gets a new pair of glasses, and his troubles begin. suddenly he looks Jewish and people in his neighborhood and at his office start looking at him differently. Aafter he finds love with a woman who also looks Jewish but is not, things become more complicated and more frightening. Newman used to be tolerated if not totally endorsed by the members of the "christian front" who live in his block. Now they begin to regard him the same way they do finkelstein who owns the candy store. Instead of being one of the crowd, Newman has become an alien. What can he do to deny the false label of Jew? Or should he deny it? and this is the crux of this brilliant, wrenching novel. As Newman's visual focus changes with the new glasses, his mental focus also undergoes a change. He begins to question his own prejudices and values. His fear of danger and his need to belong clash with his growing uneasiness about the moral stand of the people he has hitherto admired, and he finds that the choices he makes will affect his life and his hope for love and happiness. This story takes place in 1945 but it is just as powerful and relevant today.
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