Essay: The Chosen by Chaim Potok

The story is about the friendship between two Jewish boys growing up in 1940s in Brooklyn. The story takes place over a period of seven years, beginning in 1944 when the main characters, Danny and Reuven, are fifteen years old.

Danny and Reuven meet each other as rivals in a baseball game between their school teams, but the baseball game quickly turns into a holy war. In the final inning, Reuven is pitching. Danny smacks a line drive at Reuven that hits him in the eye, shattering his glasses and sending him to the hospital. Danny visits Reuven in the hospital to ask his forgiveness, but at first Reuven rejects his attempts to apologize. After a struggle a friendship develops between the two. Reuven and Danny begin talking about their intellectual interests and their hopes for the future. Reuven learns about Danny’s life and finds out that the Hasidic boy, Danny, is very different from his expectations. Reuven learns that Danny’s father only talks to Danny during religious conversations. Danny is being brought up in silence. Reuven also finds out that Danny wants to become a psychologist rather than inherit the position as a leader of the Hasidic as his father wants him to be. Danny admits that he secretly reads every day in the public library, studying books of which his father would disapprove. After world war ll Reb Saunders forbids the friendship between Reuven and Danny. This is because of moral reasons. After two horrible years, the boys are allowed to talk to each other. After all, Reb Saunders is willing to give his blessing to Danny’s dream of studying psychology and he asks Danny to forgive him for the pain he caused.

After a while, Reuven has definitely decided he wants to be a rabbi and Danny goes on to study psychology.

Period, author, intention

The Chosen is written by Chaim Potok. Actually, his Hebrew name was Chaim and his real name was Herman Harold Potok. He was born in 1929 and died in 2002. Potok was an American Jewish author and rabbi. A rabbi is a religious leader and teacher in the Jewish religion. He received an Orthodox Jewish education and became famous for his first book The Chosen, published in 1967. His work was very important for discussing the conflict between Jewish thought and the non-Jewish/secular culture. He uses familiar settings in his stories. This was a fundamental tension in his own life.

The Chosen is a part of a tradition of twentieth-century Jewish-American literature. Potok’s characters try to balance their religious background with their interest in the secular world.

The main characters of The Chosen are a Hasid and a traditional Orthodox Jew. Hasidic Jews are known for their faithfulness towards their leaders. Contrary to a Hasidic Jew, traditional Orthodox Jews emphasizes an intellectual and rational approach to Judaism. The story tells the parallel stories of two Jewish adolescents. They become friends and yet different enough to change each other’s view of the world.

The Chosen was first published in 1967 (20th century). The chosen takes place at an important moment in the world history.

– The first third of the novel takes place during the Allied offensive in World War ll: a brutal worldwide war.
– The middle third deals with the Holocaust.
– The final third is about the Zionist movement to create a Jewish state in Palestine.

Potok paints a picture of Jewish Americans in the period. For example, Reb Saunders and David Malter react to the Holocaust in different ways. The events contribute to its plot and thematic contents. They affect the characters in the novel.

Themes

‘ Religion

The story is about two Jewish teenagers growing up. The difference between those boys is that Reuven Malter has more flexible religious customs compared to Danny Saunders, who comes from a very strict Hasidic background.

‘ Love & friendship

In the chosen love has a deep, difficult and mysterious meaning. Two boys, Danny and Reuven, move from angry competition to friendship and from friendship to brotherly.

‘ Father-son relationships

The relationships between Reuven and his father David Malter and Danny and his father Reb Saunders are very important in the story. The relationship with the father dominates the novel. The fathers of the story both have another idea of parenting. Reb, the father of Danny, is very strict compared to David Malter, who has an open and warm relationship with Reuven.

Symbolism

‘ The talmud

Potok often mentions the Talmud, the Jewish law, in his book The Chosen. The Talmud or the Talmudic study in The Chosen symbolizes the importance of actively engaging tradition. Potok wants to pursue knowledge in order to attain a personal and unique interpretation of Judaism (and the world).

‘ Eyes and eyeglasses

Potok wants to reflect the novel’s emphasis (importance) on perception (how someone experiences or criticizes something) of the world and of oneself by mentioning eyes and eyeglasses. Eyes and eyeglasses represent vision. This is not only in the literal sense (when Danny smacked a line drive at Reuven’s, that hits him in the eye), but also in a figurative sense. When Danny and Reuven became friends, Danny works to make Reuven more willing and aware to open his eyes to the world. Potok wants to symbolize the importance of perception and also the way interaction can improve perception

Literary terms

‘ Coming-of-age

Coming-of-age is a young person’s transition from childhood to adulthood. In The Chosen such a change is associated with an age of religious responsibility. The Chosen deals with the psychological and moral growth associated with coming of age. Reuven and Danny are developing a political opinion and during the story they learn more about themselves and the society. At the end of the story, they are free to make their own decisions in life.

‘ Post Modernism

Postmodernism is a late 20th century movement. The most striking feature of postmodernism is the questioning of truth. According to postmodernists the word ‘truth’ does not exist. The genre was still in its infancy when Chain Potok wrote this book. In Potok’s view different peoples construct reality differently. You can see this in the novel ‘The Chosen’. The characters in the book do have different ideas of living a good life. They have another idea of reality.

Source: Essay UK - http://xbmm43.com/essays/english-literature/essay-the-chosen-by-chaim-potok/


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