The Book of Daniel

Trust and Betrayal: An Overview of the Literary Elements in Doctorow's The Book of Daniel

As 1950s America engulfed itself in a widespread fear of Communism, government officials became extra vigilant in finding and punishing possible spies and traitors. Suspects were arrested for saying the wrong thing, being seen in the wrong place at the wrong time, and even for thinking the wrong thoughts. As mass nervosa ensued, Americans began to question the values and intentions of their own friends and neighbors, and suspicion and mistrust festered. This dark age in American history was fertile ground for authors wishing to comment on the trust men have in one another and the betrayal that too often follows. Through the elements of historical fiction, E. L. Doctorow's The Book of Daniel uses the Red Scare of the 1950s as a backdrop for these themes of trust and betrayal.

The themes of trust and betrayal saturate The Book of Daniel's many layers. This is most apparent on the novel's simplest level, the plot. The Book of Daniel is the story of two McCarthy era Communists, Paul and Rochelle Isaacson, and their children. Paul and Rochelle are accused of treason and, following a controversial trial, executed in the electric chair. Their son, Daniel, is a writer who reflects on the trial years later....

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