Literary Analysis Essay, Research Paper
Authors use writing as a form of disseminating their knowledge and experiences to the world. Chaim Potok is a master of this, and has shown it in each of his eight amazing novels. In his novels, Potok often made the idea of challenging conformity a central issue for the characters. Danny s decision to become a Psychologist in The Chosen is a single example of this issue with conformity. From the diametric opposition of Danny and Reuven s characters, Potok shows how delicate the balance of the worlds of secular and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism can be. Potok s purpose of writing this novel is to show not only this balance of beliefs, but also the conflicts that can arise within a single religion.
Potok was born in the Bronx, New York in February of 1929. He was the son of two polish immigrants and grew up in an Orthodox Hassidic family. His family and friends within the sect discouraged him from going beyond the boundaries of Judaism. The discouragement of leaving orthodox practices only led to rebellion. His rebellion lied within his becoming a conservative Jewish person. Secular Jews practice the religion, but do not base their lives around Judaism. Potok was intrigued by this idea, and after he read Portrait of a Young Man , and another novel by Evelyn Waugh, he decided that he wanted to have a life outside of religion. He had numerous experiences leading to his more conservative beliefs. The first experience was his enrollment in the Korean War. He had served as a chaplain in 1956-57(Gale 44). While enrolled in the service, he realized that there was much more outside of the world of ultra-orthodox Judaism. This pushed him towards much more secular beliefs. This idea is apparent in The Chosen in the life of Danny Saunders and Reuven as well (Classic notes).
Potok s College life was not entirely based upon Religion. He did attend Yeshiva University where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. After that, he moved to the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. At the Seminary he was ordained a conservative Rabbi. He moved on to become a teacher at several Jewish Colleges. The most prominent of these was the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and University of Pennsylvania as well. After his college experiences, he moved on to the Korean War. From his experience in the service, he had to overcome the conflict of loyalty to Parental Values and the Desire to Study outside the Prescribed Texts. This is another essential idea that was placed within The Chosen and other of his acclaimed works(Interview c).
Potok wrote a total of eight novels. Each is told based upon historical knowledge and Potok s experiences in his life. They are all told in the first person Narrative. Many scholars and critics believe that in his works, Potok is actually describing his own life, and he is truly the main characters in many of his novels. In numerous interviews, Potok has denied this, but admits that they are shaped around experiences and beliefs.
Potok s first and most recognized book is The Chosen. Written in 1967, The novel deals with many themes that American Jews had to overcome in the times around the Holocaust. Potok was inspired to write by a book by Evelyn Waugh and A portrait of a Young man. Ironically, both of these were books about Catholicism. After reading these Novels, Potok said to himself If books that are about completely different religions and beliefs can be so intriguing, then there must be more to life than the world of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. After this epiphany, Potok went on to become one of the most prominent and successful writers of the twentieth century.
Potok s novel is the story of the friendship between the Hassidic Jew, Danny Saunders and the more conservative Jewish teenager, Reuven Malter. The novel takes place in Brooklyn towards end of the Second World War. It deals with the struggle between secular and Orthodox Judaism, and how these two boys help each other realize what they truly want to do with their lives. There are a number of central themes in the novel. Potok deals with father-son relationships as a major idea in the book. He describes in detail Danny and Reuven s relationship with their fathers. Another theme Potok inserts into the novel is the meaning of silence. Danny s father raised him in silence, and this is a reoccurring motif throughout the plot. These themes are all related and tied together as Potok forms a vivid image of Jewish life in the mind of the reader (classic notes).
The conflicts between the secular and the orthodox were represented by the Malter family and the Saunders Family. The Malter family represented the secular views of Judaism, while the Saunders represented the ultra-orthodox views. The conflicts arise in the ideas around World War II, Zionism, the Holocaust, and Danny s issues with conformity. One turning point in the story occurs when the characters learn of the holocaust. Reuven must go stay at Danny s for the summer because his father has a heart attack. One day, while staying with the Saunders, Reuven mentions to Danny s father that some were talking about creating a homeland for the Jews in Palestine. Reb becomes enraged, and in his anger states that the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will not be built by Jewish Goyim while I live! He becomes extremely close to throwing Reuven out of the house, and it shows how much tension arose among the Jewish sub-cultures at the time. This is not only foreshadowing an incident concerning Zionism later in the book, but it also shows the reoccurring theme of secular and religious conflicts within Judaism. Later in the novel, Reuven s father becomes an active Zionist. One day, David goes on TV, and preaches about why he believed that the Jews need a home in Palestine. Reb Saunders finds out about this, and it leads to a two-year ban of silence and end to Danny and Reuven s friendship.
The two-year time period during which the boys do not speak is important for Reuven. It teaches him about the silence that Reb has used to bring Danny up. During the time when they do not speak, they learn to communicate through hand gestures and even just by smiling at each other. It was important that Reuven learned this so that he could understand why Danny would not oppose the silent upbringing. Reuven could never understand Danny s position because David Malter conversed with him constantly. The idea of being raised in silence was a reflection of Potok s life as a young adult. Potok was discouraged from going outside the boundaries of Hassidism. The more people pushed him to conform, the more he tried to rebel. Danny s ultimate rebellion occurred when he decided that he did not want to become a rabbi and follow in his father s footsteps, but rather become a psychologist. One of the most famous images in the novel is the scene in which Danny shaves his ear-locks. This action is a symbol of freedom from his father (Classic Notes).
The father-son relationships, while not only showing a sense of irony, also show more examples of the reoccurring motif of silence. Reuven and his father were very close. They share their lives with each other through word of mouth. Each night his father would speak to him about his day, and Reuven had the utmost respect for him. The irony in this situation is that his best friend, Danny and his father do not speak.
Reb Saunders believes in the ritual of raising a tzaddik in silence. Because he believed his son was following in his footsteps, he did not speak directly to his son. It showed a strong contrast to the relationship between Reuven and his father. This expectation was an important idea because it was the cause of Danny s rebellion. Danny did not follow in his father s footsteps. Instead, he became a psychologist. At the end of the book, Danny goes against conformity and chooses a path that will suit himself, and not his father, for the rest of his life. At that point, Reb can cease the silence, and begin speaking to Danny. One ironic situation is that David Malter asks Danny how he will raise his children. In response, Danny says that he will raise them in silence, if he cannot find any other way.
Throughout the entire novel, Potok makes the reader believe that Reb Saunders is cruel and tyrannical. He shows this through examples in the text, such as the time when Reb places a ban on the friendships between Reuven and Danny. As those two painful years go by in the story, the reader becomes more and more resentful towards Reb Saunders. The reader also develops the idea when Reb nearly throws Reuven out of the house from mentioning the Zionist movement his father had been a part of. In another instance, Potok makes Danny look as though he is being scarred for life from the silence. At the end, when Danny has the epiphany that he will raise his children in silence, the reader regains a new respect for Reb Saunders. Both David Malter and Reb Saunders were wonderful parents, and Potok explains this in an extremely roundabout way. In the end, each of them raised smart, successful children and reached their goals. The purpose of this cruel portrayal is to once again show how different two subcultures of a single religion can be (Interview).
The end of The Chosen is full of irony. Reuven becomes a rabbi. This is ironic because while he was in the hospital at the beginning of the book, he told Danny that he could never see himself being a rabbi later in life. In the novel, Each boy goes through a rite of passage, from youth to adulthood. At the end of the story, each boy realizes what his path will be for the future. Danny realizes that he was the one chosen to go against conformity. He succeeds in becoming a psychologist, and all his studies of Freud and college years pay off. The irony was that the religious person undertook a secular lifestyle, while the secular undertook the religious person s. Danny has an epiphany that he will, after all he went through, raise his children in the same way that he was raised. This shows that even though Reb Saunders seemed a bit of a tyrant, Danny ultimately ended up upholding some of the tradition passed from his father.
Potok writes this novel with such excellence that it can be interesting to anyone, Jewish or not Jewish. He learned that this could be done at the age of 16, when he read Portrait of a Young Man. The book written about Catholicism was intriguing in that it could keep him interested even though he was an orthodox Jew. Potok believes that within the Particular, there lies the universal (Interview 8C). This means that when you can appeal to one audience, it is possible to appeal to everyone. The Chosen is Potok s example of this. He appeals not only to the Jewish community, but also to the rest of the world who reads his work. The novels deal with timeless and important issues. The issues dealt with in this novel will still be important 25 years from now. Danny Saunders, even though he seemingly had less of a relationship with his father, actually found new ways of communication. From Talmudic debates, to simple hand gestures, Danny and his father teach the reader that sometimes, silence is the best form of communication. Through this silent upbringing, and having such a brilliant mind, Danny Saunders became the Chosen. He was chosen to go against conformity, and make his decisions according to his own interests, and not his father s. This is a parallel to Potok s life, as he did the exact same thing in branching out of Orthodox Judaism to become a conservative. The point of the novel is that no one should be narrow-minded. People should be open to everything, because even though some ideas may seem confusing or questionable at first glance, there is usually an underlying reason for its existence. Combining his experiences with his need to share his profound knowledge, Potok wrote the Chosen not only to come to terms with his past, but also to teach the world valuable lessons in life and in moral.