The Chosen Essay, Research Paper
A. Plot Summary
The Chosen by Chaim Potok is set in the 1940’s neighborhood of Brooklyn in Williamsburg. Two boys who live a few blocks from each other but in totally different environments forge a unique relationship. Reuven Malter, the son of an Orthodox Jewish scholar, and Danny Saunders, the brilliant son of a great Hasidic rabbi, meet for the first time in a baseball game between their two Jewish parochial schools.
Reuven is hit in the eye with a ball hit by Danny and is kept in bed for almost a month. During this time, Reuven befriends Danny as he constantly visits him due to his guilt about almost blinding Reuven. Danny comes to the hospital to chat with Reuven and occasionally talk about the war or his study of the Talmud. When Reuven gets out of the hospital, Danny brings him to his home for Shabbat and to meet his father. Reuven is overwhelmed by his father’s calm and stern manner of speaking to his son. Reuven finds out that Danny must become a rabbi and cannot become a psychologist like he wants.
Reuven and Danny grow older and they get into the same college. Due to Reuven’s father support for the creation of a Jewish state, Danny’s father, who thinks a Jewish state can only be created when the Messiah comes, forbids Danny to speak to Reuven. This goes on for a while before Danny’s father accepts that a Jewish states is in the best interest of Jews everywhere and allows them to be friends again.
In an emotional lecture, Danny’s father finally acknowledges Danny’s dream and allows him to pursue a career of being a psychologist.
B. Thematic Discussion
In The Chosen, Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders form a deep, if unlikely, friendship. This relationship develops over time and also greatly affects the young men’s development. They grow up in different environments and have different upbringings, but deep down inside, they have similar lives.
Potok is able to point out how similar and different Danny and Reuven’s lives are. Reuven has a very open relationship with his father. Danny’s father only speaks to Danny when they are studying the Talmud. Danny accepts this reality while Reuven is very bothered by this. Reuven has a hard time coping with silence when his father has a heart attack and has stay in bed for many months: “Total silence in the apartment was impossible for me to take, and I would go…take long walks in the bitter, cold winter nights.”(p.228) This describes a lonely, solitary time in his life but this alludes to Danny’s everyday life. It depicts a terrible reality of Danny’s silent relationship with his father.
Reuven is greatly changed by the experience in the ballpark where Danny hit him in the eye. The event is able to bring them closer together. After many visits to the hospital to visit Reuven, Danny totally changes him: “Somehow everything had changed…it was another world.”(p.96) Danny opens his eyes to a new culture and people that Reuven hardly understands. They hang out together a lot and Danny brings him to his home. Here is where Reuven sees a different world just a few blocks away from his own house:
“The liquid streams of racing children, the noisy chatter of long-sleeved women, the worn buildings and blotched banisters, the garbage cans…gave me the feeling of having slid silently across a strange threshold…I regretted having let Danny take me into his world…I felt myself naked fragile, an intruder.(p.115-116)” Reuven is very uncomfortable in this totally new environment, but as they become better friends, he goes to Danny’s home for Shabbat many times and is very relaxed. They discuss the Talmud; and as part of Danny’s training to become a tzaddik, Reb Saunders makes intentional mistakes to see if his son and Reuven can catch them.
Reb Saunders is very narrow-minded as to the future of his son, Danny. He simply wants Danny to get his smicha and become a tzaddik. Danny has a great mind and wants to use it to study psychology, not to become a Hasidic tzaddik. Reuven also feels sorry for Danny. There is a very symbolic scene where he is sitting on his porch, and sees a fly trapped in a spider’s web and is about to get eaten. Reuven blows on the fly, first softly, and then more harshly, and the fly is free. This is represents how Reuven wants to free Danny from the “filmy, almost invisible strands of the web”(p.165), a metaphor of Reb Saunders that has Danny somewhat captured and expects him to become a tzaddik. But in the end, Reb Saunders finds out that Danny has secretly gone to the library to study Freud, the pioneer of psychoanalysis and says, ” ‘Today my Daniel is free.’ “(p.268), allowing him to become a psychologist.
Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders have a very close relationship. Danny is lonely and comes to depend on the friendship of Reuven. Danny also affects Reuven by changing his dream of becoming a mathematician to becoming a rabbi. He shows Reuven that after the Holocaust, Jews are in dire need for more leaders to help rebuild.