Sexual Fantasy: Coming of Age in Modern America

Portnoy's Complaint and The Brief Wondrous life of Oscar Wao are two bildungsroman (coming of age stories) that suggest there are profound discrepancies between exterior and interior realities. Like The Bonfire of the Vanities, another classic chronicle of the tension between social personas and the dark underbelly of individual psychologies, these stories suggest that to be an American is to have a divided self. In all three novels, main characters project a moral, often a seemingly asexual surface, but beneath that social self, darker and more passionate desires seethe within. Each character has a sexual fantasy or obsession: in the case of Alexander Portnoy, it is gentile females, in the case of Sherman McCoy it is a lower-class woman, in the case of Oscar Wao it is beautiful women he can never have because of his physical appearance.

The titular hero of...
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