Therefore, the totalitarian threat does not just replace the first president with Hitler, but also removes any possibility of difference or ambiguity. The multiple, varied, and multifaceted portraits of Washington are replaced entirely by a single, repeated image, because the totalitarian regime must remove any room for interpretation. Furthermore, the importance of the name of Washington himself is demonstrated by the careful attention to the ribbons which once held his name:
And on the ribbon beneath each portrait, there was no longer the name "Washington" either. Whether the ribbon curved downward as on the one-half-cent stamp and the six, or curved upward as on the four, the five, the seven, and the ten, or straight with raised ends as on the one, the one and a half, the two, the three, the eight, and the nine, the name lettered across the ribbon was "Hitler" (Roth 43).
Thus, the family's trip to Washington DC serves to secure its legacy in the same way that Philip's bringing the stamp collection on the trip protects them from contamination from Lindbergh. Even though the family's trip to DC is not ideal, the mere act of their going serves to reify the historical and sociological structures of the city, which in turn reactivates that history even if only for a little while.
In this light, Washington as represented in the stamp collection (and by extension Washington DC itself) serves to represent the history of America, idealized but nonetheless accurate, as represented by the differing portraits of Washington the man. By offering a multiplicity of interpretations, the Washington bicentennial stamps present the ideal American leader as multifaceted, changing, and far from singular or unilateral. As such, the transformation of Washington into Hitler represents the historical trauma caused by totalitarian regimes, as the past is necessarily repressed and revised to fit the organizing dogma of the ruling regime. Thus, the copies of Hitler's image demonstrate the homogenizing, sterilizing effects of a repressive ideology on historical awareness, and Washington DC, as the location for so much American political history, becomes the physical site of the conflict between ideologies played out beyond the confines of Philip's nightmares. If one reconsiders this understanding of Washington along with the previously analyzed passage regarding the placement of swastikas throughout National Parks, the extent of Philip's nightmare becomes clear, and irrefutably shows the stamp collection to be Philip's idealized America.
The threat that Lindbergh and his supporters pose to Philip's stamp collection and America is twofold. Firstly, it presents a rewriting of American history to exclude contradictory or multiple perspectives, instead homogenizing America's leaders into a singular image regardless of context. Secondly, following this historical revision, the unsullied images of America must be reappropriated, and so are stamped with the symbol of this totalitarian regime. American history is edited out, and the sprawling, pristine vistas which represent the unbridled, raw character of America are covered over with a swastika, so that the regime permeates everything that once constituted the ideal America and places this ideal out the reach of those who need it most. Thus, Philip finally loses his stamp collection only once it becomes completely clear that the America in which the Roths find themselves is so beyond any ideal that even its metaphoric representative can no longer be retained. In a sense, Hitler and Lindberg ultimately do not need to deface the metaphorical America in the form of the stamp collection, because they have succeeded in defacing the very real America it represents, and so...
Philip loses his stamp collection just at the moment in the narrative when the Jews decisively lose America (although the hope for its restoration remains).
The use of Philip's stamp collection as a metaphor for America allows the novel to transcend its specific historical setting, because the influence and rise of totalitarianism as described by Philip's nightmare about his stamps is shown to be rapidly and subversively possible. The rise of fascist, anti-Semitic policies in America begins, both in the overall narrative and metaphorically in Philip's nightmares and worries, with a single character whether it be Hitler or Lindbergh. That this catastrophic social upheaval can be precipitated by a single person seems hyperbolic until one remembers the transformation of Washington into Hitler. It is not so much the individual person which does the damage (in this case Hitler), but rather the reproduction of that person's ideas and beliefs via a system of followers and supporters.
Just as Hitler replaces the varied Washington portraits with a single, repeating image, so too does Lindbergh replace political discourse and discussion with his single, repeated tagline, "vote for Lindbergh or vote for war." The novel represents lingering tensions and anxieties regarding the potential for totalitarianism by demonstrating its ever-present, ever-familiar threat, that is made all the more dangerous by its ability to present itself in what are ostensibly the unlikeliest of places. The stamp collection serves represent the ideal America, and in doing so, it represents the fragility of any ideal America, whether of the 1940s or 2040s, and shows how the insidious creep of totalitarianism and more specifically, anti-Semitism, infects national histories and psyches.
Through the stamp collection, the novel suggests that the only way an ideal America can be obtained is by constant awareness and dedication, because the potential for a movement towards totalitarianism is also closer than it appears. Philip worries about his stamp collection, because for him, it is the most valuable possession or thing that could possibly be threatened by Lindbergh's policies. Whereas an adult might focus that fear onto a fear of being relocated, or beaten, or investigated, the young Philip, whose world is substantially smaller, both literally and figuratively, identifies the ultimate threat as a threat against his stamp collection. Rather than presenting Philip as somehow naive or otherwise unaware of the larger issues surrounding him, however, the novel uses his concern for his stamp collection as a way of considering the larger issues of the story, because Philip's child-like concern contains within it all the more "refined" concerns of older characters.
Philip Roth's novel The Plot Against America charts a Jewish family's reactions to the rise of a totalitarian, anti-Semitic regime in America during the 1940s. The novel uses the image of the main character's stamp collection in order to consider the fragility of an ideal America, and to explore how ideals are corrupted. In particular, Philip's nightmare regarding the transformation of his stamp collection into a Nazi-fied America orients any further appearances of the stamp collection so that it serves as a kind of metaphorical shorthand for the pure innocence of the ideal of America as sanctuary, appearing wherever the corruption of this ideal is underway. By examining the details of the narration regarding Philip's initial nightmare, in addition to his reasons for brining his stamps with him to Washington DC, it is possible to fully understand how the novel uses Philip's stamp collection as a…
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