Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Jesse Andrews is the author of what the New York Times has called the best-selling novel, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Abrams Books, 2012. He has also written the feature-film adaptation of his own book, the winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. It was released in theaters in summer 2015 and is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital HD.
This book and film target high school students, grades 10-12, undoubtedly the most emotionally and psychologically vulnerable age group. Jesse Andrews delves into the deepest corners of teen-age insecurity, sexuality, jealousy, competition, anger and fear of death. His presentation of these moments reflects a basic understanding of adolescent psychology and behavior. This being said, I need to ask how such a book, filled with a sexuality bordering on pornographic salaciousness, could be found in the library of an Elementary School in Cumberland County, Tennessee as well as in Middle and/or High Schools in Bedford, Shelby, and Davidson Counties, Tennessee.
I spent many hours reading reviews of this book online. All focus on the above-mentioned adolescent topics. All reviewers stress the humor, comic elements, hilarity of certain scenes, vocabulary, language with its impropriety and vulgarity, smut-drenched imagery and the laughter which they elicit.
This led me to write the following analysis of this book. As an academic trained in the analysis of literature, its themes, language, terminology and imagery and as a traditional observant American Jew who now lives in Jerusalem, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is an example of what belongs to the genre of anti-Semitic literature, both in narrative and in film. It is probably the most dangerous type of anti-Semitism, designed to impact our most vulnerable Jewish young people by destroying the very essence of their Jewish self-esteem. Jesse Andrews’s book teaches Jew-Hatred, the 21st century version of anti-Semitism. It teaches it to non-Jews while targeting Jewish teenagers, teaching them self-hate as Jews. He diminishes, undermines, mocks and scorns Jews and Judaism and uses laughter, sexuality, drugs and pornographic innuendo to do so. His stylistic devices for creating humor include irony, sarcasm, satire, paradox, absurdity, exaggeration, overstatement, incongruity, self-deprecating humor, and situational humor, as found in his drug scenes.
There is an odd connection between anti-Semitism and devout Judaism. This is often one of the explanations for the fairly common phenomenon of Jewish self-hatred, which includes a wide range of nuances, from exaggerated self-criticism to fierce anti-Semitic sentiments. Among the psychological derivatives of a deep faith (irrational and often not conscious) in the special quality of Israel as the Chosen People, there is a tendency to an excessively severe criticism. What would be considered as normal and even correct for others is inexcusable for the Chosen People. When this self-criticism becomes overly rigorous in its harshness, it makes one forget the primary element that was at its source and it can become aggravated into a sick antipathy – into “autoantisemitism.”
Jesse Andrews is NOT an autoantisemite. He is NOT a self-hating Jew. Jesse Andrews is a Jew-Hating Jew…a Jew-Hating, egotistical Jew, who mocks his parents, his upbringing, his heritage, his Peoplehood and his ancestral and reborn Homeland. Jesse Andrews is no Philip Roth. Me, Earl and the Dying Girl is no Portnoy’s Complaint. But Andrews’ 2012 book and screenplay have scenes about his Jewish mother which bring Roth to mind but with a baseness and disdain not found in Roth.
There are several themes in this novel which illustrate and embody the essence of Jesse Andrews and his message.
- Jesse Andrews and his Jewish Mother
Jesse Andrews mocks his Mother, her Jewishness and profession to create an absolutely absurd, disgusting and scathing introduction of Israel through his blatant, licentious and scurrilous presentation of the organization Ahavat Ha’Emet (Love of the Truth).
“Marla Gaines. And that’s my mom, Marla, the ex-hippie. Mom led a very interesting life before she married Dad, but the details are carefully guarded. We know that she lived in Israel at some point, and we suspect that she may have had a boyfriend in the Saudi royal family, which would have been sort of a big deal, because she is Jewish. In fact, Marla Weissman Gaines is very Jewish. She is the executive director of Ahavat Ha’Emet, a nonprofit that sends Jewish teenagers to work on a kibbutz and lose their virginity. I should point out that the virginity-losing part is not technically in the mission statement of Ahavat Ha’Emet. I’m just saying, you do not leave Israel without getting laid. You could have an eight-inch-thick titanium diaper bolted to your pelvis, and you would still somehow get laid. It should be their official tourism slogan: Israel. Where Virginity Goes to Die.
Israelis get it on.” Page 49
2. Jesse Andrews and His Jewish Mother as a tool for his disdain of Judaism.
Now more than ever. I know it’s
Hard, but you don’t have a choice. It’s a mitzvah.
‘Mitzvah” is Hebrew for “colossal pain in the ass.” Page 37
3. Jesse Andrews and the art of Jewish assimilation…the “birth” of surprise Jews.
“Grace Gaines … Incidentally, you may have noticed that all of our names begin with GR and are not at all Jewish-sounding. One night Mom had a little too much wine at dinner and confided to us all that, before we were born, and after she realized her children would have Dad’s also-not-Jewish last name, she decided she wanted all of us to be ‘surprise Jews.” Meaning Jews with sneaky Anglo-Saxon names. I know, it makes no sense. I guess it shows that a vulnerability to brain fungus runs in the family.” Page 50
4. Jesse Andrews and Hebrew School – how an American Jew adds to the demise of Jewish education by adding salaciousness and pornographic innuendo to the first introduction of the synagogue and its Hebrew School in his book .
“Hey, Earl, I cannot watch Alphaville today.”
“Why the hell not?”
“I’m sorry, man. I have to hang out with this girl from, uh-
This girl from my synagogue.”
She’s a —
Are you gonna eat her pussy?” Page 59
5. Jesse Andrews and Hebrew School – how an American Jew adds to the demise of Jewish education by his scathing attack on his Jewish education.
What were we talking about?
Right. What a waste.
I learned nothing. Seriously, I can’t tell you anything about Jews. I am a Jew, and I still deserve an F in Jewishness.
I think it’s “Judaism”.
See, that’s what I’m talking about. I don’t even know what to call it. And I definitely don’t know what Jews believe. Like, do Jews believe in heaven? Are we supposed to believe in that?
I don’t know.” Pages 91-92
6. Jesse Andrews and Teenage Masturbation – Is it anti-Jewish and anti-Christian or just plain filth?
I wish I had that many pillows.
Why don’t you ask your parents for some?
They wouldn’t like that.
I have no idea why I said that.
Yeah, they’d be suspicious or something.
That you’d sleep all the time?
No, uh…They’d probably think I was just going to masturbate all over them.” Page 71
7. Jesse Andrews and his attack on the self-esteem of Jewish high school students.
RACHEL Yesterday you were saying, you’ve mapped out the entire high school by group. So what’s my group?
GREG Seriously? (beat) Boring Jewish Senior Girls Subgroup 2a.
RACHEL (disgusted) Ugh.
GREG Please appreciate how honest that was just now.
RACHEL You’re an asshole. What group are you in?
Rachel gazes at this weird kid with the self-esteem deficit.
RACHEL (decisively) Congratulations, Greg. Tomorrow, you’re eating lunch with Boring Jewish Senior Girls Subgroup 2a.” Pages 30-31
The linguistic base of Jesse Andrews’ Jew-Hatred is couched in the Holocaust and in Nazi proliferation of attacks on the essence of Judaism and the Jews. However, unless one is well-versed in the language of the Holocaust, it is almost impossible for anyone to identify and especially our students who know little if anything about Hitler’s campaign to eliminate Judaism and the Jews. Jesse Andrews sets the stage for another type of Holocaust – the destruction of Jewish self-esteem in Jewish high school students, leading to the disowning of their heritage and identity. This is his aim in the creation of the “Boring Jewish Senior Girls Subgroup”. This is an appropriated Holocaust designation of Jews as sub-humans. It is also the motivation behind his description of “Rachel’s nondescript-looking friends”, all Jewish identity stripped from them, just as all the Jews were tattooed with numbers, removing their identities and religious Jewish men had their beards cut off, making them non-descript. Nazi sexual abuse of Jews conquered by them resonates in the author’s use of obscene sexuality and deviant behavior such as masturbation on the pillows in Rachel’s room to denigrate the self-esteem of Jewish high school students. Subtle scorn of Jewish burial and Shiva practices complete the author’s attack on the life-cycle self-esteem of impressionable Jewish students and unknowing non-Jewish youngsters.
Jew-Hatred, the new 21st century version of Medieval Christian anti-Semitism, is well disguised but definitely present in this book and on the screen.
 Rabbi Adin Even-Israel-Steinsaltz, .Rabbi’s Word: Autoantisemistism – Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (eajc.org)