Fathers And Sons Essay, Research Paper
Fathers and Sons could of have easily been the title for Chaim Potok s novel The Chosen. In his first book, The Chosen, Potok portrays two different father and son relationships where the tradition becomes the source of conflict for his central characters, as they each seek their identities in the contemporary, secular society1. From one father and son relationship to the other each has its own set of problems and has their own way to communicate with one another. The conflicts in The Chosen functions at several levels. These are generational conflict, the temperamental conflict, the conflict between head and heart, and the opposition between a petrified fanaticism and humane tolerance2. In Chaim Potok s The Chosen each father and son relationship represent two different sides of Jewish life.
The Chosen begins with a softball game between two Jewish parochial schools. Reuven Malter who is the son of a Jewish scholar is hit in the face with a ball hit by Danny Saunders who is the son of a Hasid that almost makes him blind. These two boys have two different backgrounds. Reuven is Orthodox; Danny is a Hasid, the son of a rabbi and destined by his father to take his hereditary place as tzaddik- a teacher, spiritual advisor, mediator between his community of followers and God3. This simple game in which the novel begins with not only triggers the conflict but determines the direction the novel would take. While recovering in the hospital the two boys become spiritual and intellectual brothers. Neither one could have imagined that through their one incident at the baseball game that they would grow to become spiritual brothers. Each teaches the other about their beliefs and their differences in their ways that each one of them are brought up. For Reuven and Danny are can be compared to the Ying and Yang because one supplements the other. Danny is a young man torn between fulfilling the expectations of being a rabbi like his father and satisfying his own need for secular knowledge. On the other hand Reuven represents the old fashioned Jew and the perfect child. From the beginning of the novel one can quickly sense that Danny will rebel and Reuven will become a rabbi.
As Orthodox Jews, the Reuven is brought up much differently from a Hasid. Reuven father who is Zionist, like Rabbi Saunders has taken the sufferings of his people upon himself4. Mr. Malters the yeshiva teacher freely gives to his son Reuven warmth, communication, and understanding. He recognizes the importance of Judaic scholarship, but he unlike Reb Saunders encourages his son to study secular subjects as well. He raises Reuven the freedom to study what he wishes while keeping him tied down with old Jewish traditions. He builds a relationship where Reuven is given his opinion and is able to ask questions about subjects that interest him. Reuven is not only an outstanding student of Talmud but he has a head for mathematics and symbolic logic. Like his father he also has a spark of tolerance which illuminates his own knowledge if human essences as opposed to ritualistic forms5. Reuven represents the perfect son whereas Danny can represent the son who disappointed his father. Throughout the novel Potok creates an image where his Reuven sits there and listens to whatever comes out of his fathers mouth. Since Reuven s relationship with his father is one which is built on mutual love and respect and not suffering, Reuven grows up to become exactly what his father had hoped for. At one point in the novel Reuven s close brotherhood with Danny is jeopardized when his father writes and article regarding Hasid Jews. During this period of time Reuven is able to bond with is father about the differences that Hasid and Misnagic have. This not only rages Reb Saunders but also adds to the anger that existed before. Reb Saunders is aware of the fact that Mr. Malters was encouraging Danny to read secular books.
Reb Saunders chose to raise Danny Saunders according to the unusual Hasidic tradition that dictates that under certain circumstances a father and son should speak only when discussing religious texts. Danny has a relationship with his father where usually it is full of complete silence. Every weekend they would have Talmud study sessions. Although their relationship is full of suffering and no conversing of subjects other than Talmud Danny is aware of the fact that his father loves him. Reb Saunders raises Danny in a life that would prepare him for taking over the heir. At times Danny isn t able to tell his father exactly what is going on but his father is always aware. For example when Danny began satisfying his need for secular subjects by reading Freud, his father was clearly aware of it. Reb Saunders is an admixture of pride and fanatic pietism that prevents any intimacy between himself and his son6. Since Danny is brought up where he is neglected love and freedom, the importance of a father and son relationship suffers greatly. It leads to Danny going against what his father had prepared him for. The Chosen can be regarded as conflicts between fathers and their offspring. At the end each son becomes what his father had not expected him to become.
At the end of the novel sons have progressed in the world because of their relationship with his father. Reuven a gifted mathematician, who at first wanted to become a professor, decides to become a rabbi. The Chosen presents a conflict between two generations and the Hawthornesque split between the obsessions of the head and the impulses if the heart that carry the major thrust7 . Danny, who throughout the novel is coerced into following Hassidic tradition, and is expected to succeed Reb to the leadership of rabbi, breaks away from that. He decides to become a psychologist. Reb Saunders responds by saying Danny will become a tzaddik for the world, not merely for Jews. 8 Each fathers decision to raise their son as they wished played a enormous role in what career their son chose. The Chosen is a paradigm of two visions that can be represented by head and heart9. The Saunders seemed to have an excess of head in their relationship10. The Malters have heart and head; they are in balance.
Throughout The Chosen, Potok portrays two different relationships between father and son and how each one effects the outcome of their offspring. From Reuven becoming a rabbi to Danny becoming a psychologist or tzaddik for the world, the presence of their relationship with their father played an enormous role.