The Chosen: Identifying a Protagonist
Silence is the way to the Heart
In today’s society, silence is known for its intimidation and awkwardness, thus giving a negative connotation. However, it can serve as a positive influence as well. The protagonist of The Chosen, Reuven, goes through many obstacles in order to understand what he really wants to do with his life. The complications range from physical injuries such as “the pain in [his] left eye” to deep emotional conflicts like Reuven misunderstanding the “silence…what do you mean, Danny is being brought up through silence?”(34-161). Throughout The Chosen, Chaim Potok develops tension and mood to demonstrate that silence can be a way to connect with the inner soul.
In the novel, Potok uses tension, lying mostly with the relationships between Reuven, Danny, and Reb Saunders, to link the mind to the heart. Reb Saunders, paying full attention to Reuven, says “words are cruel, words play tricks, they distort what is in the heart, they conceal the heart, the heart speaks through silence” which intensifies the pressure on Reuven, and it creates a deathly silence throughout the room that reveals their true feelings (265). After Reb Saunders leaves the study room, Reuven just “sat and listened to Danny cry,” as Danny “held his face in his hands, and his sobs tore apart the silence of the room and racked his body” (267). The tension with Reb Saunders has diminished once Danny feels his father has accepted Danny’s dream. Danny truly understands himself when he is able to hear the silence. Through tension, Potok conveys that silence is the stepping stone to a deeper understanding ourselves.
In addition, the lesson is also portrayed by mood in The Chosen. As Danny is uncontrollably crying, Reuven “was crying too, crying with Danny, silently, for his pain and for the years of his suffering” demonstrating a gloomy mood as their silent tears illuminate their suffering (268). After hearing about Billy’s status, Reuven is in shock and goes “out onto the porch, [sits] in the lounge chair, stare[s] across the yard at the ailanthus. Its leaves were bathed in sunlight, and its musky odor reached me faintly in the breeze that blew against the back of the house.” The leaves that are “bathed in the sunlight” highlight the hopeful mood as Reuven “stares across the yard” and thinks this is a “crazy world. Cockeyed” (164). In this moment, Reuven takes a time of silence to think about how the world functions and hopes for the best from the bottom of his heart, hence, the hopeful mood.
Regarding the use of tension and mood, Potok helps the reader understand that silence is a way to fuse the mind to the soul. However, most people nowadays do not stop to think about their heart’s desires, but instead strive to achieve goals that will impress others. These same people are always rushing through life getting one goal done and going to another without ever thinking about what they really want. Although, taking the time to reflect on what the heart aspires may seem pointless, it will help achieve a deeper level of inner peace.
Loose Ends – The Chosen Analysis
Some people say that the difference between real life and stories, is that real life always contains loose ends, unfinished plots, and indescribable feelings. It is when authors such as Chaim Potok embody these inexpressible feelings in their works, that realism in literature is created. Through his plot, character relationships, setting and imagery, Potok creates a realistic view of Reuven and Danny’s lives and friendship. Though the thorniness of Danny’s relationship with his father is extreme, it speaks of realistic tensions.
The novel illustrates Danny’s relationship with his father as unique and interesting, yet difficult and hard to explain, as real life relationships often are. Danny tells Reuven about his father, “For years his silence bewildered and frightened me, though I always trusted him, I never hated him,” (278). Danny’s paternal relationship is one of independent learning, as his father never teaches him life skills, but only the talmud. Parents often leave children to figure things out on their own, as a way to teach them about being self-sufficient and not having to rely on others. Danny also explains about how he feels his father is pressuring him into being a tzaddik by saying, “It’s like a dynasty: If the son doesn’t take the father’s place, the dynasty falls apart,” (129). Children grapple with the possibility of disappointing their parents, just like Danny doesn’t want to disappoint his father by confessing his conflicting feelings about his future. Parents pin hopes on their children and sometimes fail to mask their disapproval when that child takes another path. When asked whether he would raise his child in silence, as he was raised, Danny responds with “Yes,if I can’t find another way,” (284). All Danny has to go on is the way that he was raised by his father. Facing a difficult decision, he chooses to use the method that he has seen work in the past, and instead of passing on the role of tzaddik, he passes on his father’s silence. Danny and his father’s relationship, as expressed by Potok is based on difficulties that echo the tensions found in most parent-child relationships.
Potok also displays realism through his diction and imagery in his character portrayal. Reb Saunders, for example, is described as having “a reputation for brilliance and compassion,” (112). Although Reb is seen for most of the novel as the antagonist, being the driving force in the separation of Reuven and Danny, towards the end, he is portrayed as more of a father figure. In real life relationships, someone’s story has many sides, and Potok displays the many aspects of Reb Saunder in his writing, shining a light on both the tzaddik, and the father in him. Reuven’s character also deepens, as Chaim has him express, “Suddenly I had the feeling that everything around me was out of focus,” (72). Even from the beginning of the novel, Potok’s characters begin to develop and come alive. Reuven’s metaphorical “blindness” helps him to see Danny, not only as a Hasid, but also as a boy of his own age. Danny expresses about his career, “The people expect me to be their rabbi. My family has been their rabbi for six generations now,” (129). His tough decision to not be a tzaddik parallels the difficult decisions that many young adults make in their lifetime. Danny is forced to choose between his bloodline, and what he himself wants. Chaim Potok eloquently fabricates believable characters in his novel, and supports them with authentic dialogue.
The novel also expresses the well-known conflict between tradition and modernity, that is found in everyday life. Reb Saunders says in one of his speeches, “We are commanded to study His Torah, it is for this that we were created…not the world, but the people of Israel,” (132). To be a Jew, he argues, is to accept the destiny and the set of responsibilities that Jews receive by virtue of their birth. By dismissing the secular world around him, Saunders implies that a truly faithful Jew should retreat to an exclusively Jewish community, immerse himself in Jewish study, and pay little attention to anything in the outside world. David Malter also urges, “I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing, but the eye that blinks, that is something,” (201). In this passage, Malter explains that awareness of the world’s suffering makes a person empathize with others and therefore appreciate all life and every detail of God’s creation. He acknowledges the need for both religion and connection to the external world. Saunder’s opinion about tradition seems to shift towards the end of the novel, as he asks Danny, “You will remain an observer of the commandments?” (281) He asks this, not only to Danny, but also to himself, as he tries to accept that his son will not be the next rabbi. His acceptance of Danny’s decision to become a professional psychologist suggests that he recognizes one can maintain ties with the outside world and be observant of one’s faith. Just as much as Jewish-American literature centers around traditional values versus American culture, Potok’s story does as well.
Chaim Potok does an excellent job at recreating and capturing a real-life issue into a novel. By doing so, he reveals to us the harsh reality of relationships and the immense effort required to surpass the conflict between tradition and modernity. However, Potok manages to Potok perfectly describes an imperfect world, with all the authentic tensions and disputes contained in real life.
“The World Drinks our Blood:” Reuven’s Moral Development in The Chosen
No matter how unjust and undeserved suffering may seem, its nature is an inevitable manifestation in life. Chaim Potok explores this concept through Reuven Malter, one of the two protagonists in The Chosen. On account of a severe wound to Reuven’s eye, he becomes acquainted with Danny Saunders, heir to the Rabbinic position held by his father, Reb Saunders, in his Hasidic Jewish community. After the incident, Danny attempts to reconcile with the hospitalized Reuven for causing the injury, whose initial reluctance progresses into acceptance once he allows himself to acknowledge Danny’s apology. From that moment, the two establish a powerful bond in which they each serve as emotional vessels for the other as they struggle through their own personal suffering. Reuven’s acceptance of Danny’s apology reshapes and improves his perception of the greater world, enabling him to more empathetically examine the rationale of suffering in not only Danny’s life, but of all humankind.
Reuven’s initial inability to view Danny as an individual with ambitions and beliefs beyond Hasidism develops from his generalized and bitter predisposition towards the Hasidic Jewish community. The rift between Reuven and Danny is first illustrated minutes prior to the baseball game between their community’s teams; during play, Reuven describes Danny as possessing an arrogant sense of righteousness, despite the two having not met before (Potok 12). This reveals Reuven’s tendency to prejudge the behaviors and motives of those with a Hasidic background based on his own preconceptions, instead of recognizing the thoughts and opinions specific to the individual. Amid the first conversation with his father after sustaining his injury, Reuven expresses intense disgust towards Danny, claiming he intentionally struck Reuven’s face with the ball (Potok 49). Reuven seizes this opportunity as confirmation for his ignorant perspective of Hasidic Jews; additionally, this emphasizes how Reuven refuses to view Danny as an independent human being rather than a representation of Hasidism. By the time Danny arrives at his bedside with an apologetic purpose, spiteful thoughts still roam through Reuven’s mind, and he responds to Danny’s attempt at making amends with a tirade of guilt-provoking insults aimed at Danny’s Hasidic culture (Potok 61-62). This exemplifies how even in spite of Danny’s efforts to hold a civil conversation, Reuven’s inability to look past his own image of how a Hasidic Jew acts prevents him from recognizing Danny’s intellectual nature.
Upon Danny’s next visit, Reuven possesses a powerful willingness to forgive him because of the advice of his father; in doing so, Reuven allows his perceptions of the world to undergo challenge and improvement. After obliging Danny to explain the baseball incident through his eyes, Reuven identifies a stark contrast between Danny’s command of English, and the Yiddish-dominant speech of his preconceived expectation of a Hasidic Jew (Potok 66-67). Unlike their previous confrontation, Reuven chooses to glance beneath the surface of the Hasidic exterior, and discovers tolerance of Danny in his improved perception. As the two continue their exchange, Danny discloses his ambition of pursuing psychology, to which Reuven reacts in silent astonishment (Potok 70). This new shard of information invites Reuven to further challenge his past-generalizations and perceptions, in that Danny’s intellectual desires transcend his religious affiliation. Before the two end their conversation, Danny claims that Reuven’s injury was avoidable, and he agrees (Potok 71); in spite of Reuven’s previous assumption that Danny’s intentions were evil, his challenged perspective emphasizes how he has enabled Danny to open his mind.
Reuven’s broadened perception of the world, because of his forgiveness of Danny, empowers him to examine and question the reasoning behind the suffering of others, and Danny’s struggle with his father. When Reuven learns that Billy Merrit, a young patient Reuven befriended during his stay at the hospital, will spend his life blind, he finds that he cannot remain calm and recounts Tony Savo, an additional patient at the hospital, repeating “Crazy word. Cockeyed” (Potok 173). This devastating situation exhibits Reuven’s inability to fathom how somebody as innocent and fragile as Billy could be condemned to suffer for life; Reuven’s decision to open his mind further forces him to empathize with Billy’s struggle. He possesses similar feelings of frustration when he is informed of both Franklin Roosevelt’s death, and the revelation of the concentration camps following German surrender, referring to the news in both cases as senseless (Potok 188-190). While Reuven is able to empathetically perceive the suffering in the world, he fails to understand suffering’s randomness; suffering’s omnipotent control; suffering’s lack of discrimination. Danny’s suffering exists differently, in that it manifests in the form of his intellectual ambition versus his father’s expectations, and the silence that marks their relationship; Reuven is initially resentful of the lack of interaction between Danny and his father outside of their Talmudic studies, and views it as an “unimaginable” punishment (Potok 235). Reuven cannot grasp why Reb Saunders elects to put his own son through this kind of treatment, refusing to acknowledge it as more than inexplicable and cruel; this exemplifies how in forgiving Danny, Reuven has allowed himself to look beyond his previous generalization and more aptly identify with Danny’s suffering. Reb Saunders describes his reasoning for Danny’s treatment as a method of teaching him compassion and empathy for others, in fear that Danny would forsake them in exchange for following a purely intellectual life; Danny later explains that he may utilize this method when raising his own children (Potok 285). Through Reb Saunders’ explanation and his ability to retain an open perspective on the world, Reuven accepts that not all suffering is senseless; while it is devastating, it is necessary for shaping the morality of an individual.
Reuven’s forgiveness of Danny enhances his perceptions of the world, which enables him to further question the justification for the suffering in both Danny’s life, and that of greater humankind. From his broadened perspective, Reuven’s empathy for the suffering of others grows significantly. While he struggles to grasp and appropriately handle the morality behind suffering initially, through Danny, he comes to realize that suffering in life is inevitable. Though suffering may seem as only senseless misery, it is essential for shaping the integrity of all.
Hook, Line, and Sinker: The One that Got Away in The Chosen
In Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, a quote by psychologist Karl Menninger appears in the dedication. It goes, “When a trout rising to a fly gets hooked and finds himself unable to swim about freely, he begins a fight which results in struggles and splashes and sometimes an escape… It is hard for a free fish to understand what is happening to a hooked one.” In terms of Potok’s novel, Menninger’s words hold substantial significance. Not only can Danny — with his future decided for him — and Reuven, who is able to choose his own path, be taken as the novel’s hooked and free fish respectively, but the quote itself also parallels one of the story’s morals.
Being dragged ceaselessly towards a predetermined future, Danny symbolizes the hooked fish, as he must become a rabbi and take over when his father steps down. In the hospital, for instance, Danny and Reuven converse briefly about what they plan to be when they are adults. Reuven asks, “Are you going to take your father’s place?” leading Danny to respond, “I have no choice. It’s an inherited position” (Potok 69). With this particular exchange, it becomes quite clear that Danny has been “hooked” by his father’s expectations of him. His inability to escape these expectations is one of the facets of his character that defines him as a hooked fish. Furthermore, during Reb Saunders’s sermon, Danny must realize and point out any errors his father makes. Danny says, “It is written in the name of Rabbi Yaakov, not Rabbi Meir,” and everybody in the synagogue murmurs and marvels at his intelligence (135). Clearly, the other synagogue attendees look upon Danny’s correction with a sort of reverence, as if their murmurs are saying, “Yes, he’s the one who should be our next rabbi.” However, what they don’t understand is that he does not wish to go down that path; he wants to trek — or in this case, swim — a route of his own making. Their blindness to his struggles against the hook that is his future is another aspect of why Danny represents the hooked fish; they others do not understand what he is going through.
With the freedom to swim whichever way he chooses, Reuven represents Menninger’s free fish. It is during the same scene in which Danny expresses his lack of choices that Reuven says that he wants to become a rabbi. “I may become a rabbi,” Reuven proclaims, and when Danny asks him why, he responds, “Why not?” (69). Reuven’s willingness and desire to be a rabbi, in tandem with his ability to do so, directly contradict Danny’s trapped state. Thus, the presence of freedom characterizes Reuven as a free fish. Additionally, when Reuven talks to his father about being invited over to Reb Saunders’s house, he finally realizes that it is all in an attempt to talk to Danny through him (as he cannot do it himself due to the silence between them.) “He wants to talk to me about Danny,” Reuven eventually understands (277). Up until this point, Reuven misinterprets the reasoning behind being invited to the Saunders’s residence, just as a free fish misinterprets the struggles of the hooked. Reuven cannot see that Reb and Danny need him there in order to reconcile and break free from the hook. As per Menninger’s quotation, the free fish — Reuven — misunderstands the hooked fish’s — Danny’s — ordeals.
Although it would be easy to simply say Danny is the hooked fish and Reuven, the free, the significance of the quote extends past merely categorizing the characters, also representing and elaborating upon the story’s moral. For example, Danny and Reuven are having a conversation when Danny asks if Reuven has ever felt trapped. Danny describes being trapped as “the most hellish, choking, constricting feeling in the world,” and he vows to someday escape it (202). His words relate to the quote in that both he and the fish will never quit fighting; they will wriggle and writhe, strain and struggle, until finally, they are either free or unable to continue the fight. Eventually, Reb Saunders, Reuven, and Danny sit down, and Reb reveals that he knows of Danny’s true desires. He tells Danny through Reuven, “Let my Daniel become a psychologist. I have no more fear” (287). Just as in the quote by Menninger, Danny struggles and pulls against the destiny that hooks him, and in the end he breaks free. Therefore, the quote is relevant in terms of the moral, as both it and the story are saying the same thing: Keep fighting and someday, the line might snap and a hooked fish can become free.
Menninger’s hooked fish is, ultimately, represented by Danny, and his free fish by Reuven; his quote is significant because of that, as well as because of its relation to the moral of Potok’s The Chosen. As he has no say in what he will become, Danny is hooked. Since Reuven does have a choice, he is free. Furthermore, the quote itself relates to the story’s moral since both protagonists indicate that if a hooked fish fights, then there is a chance that it will escape. The thing about being a hooked fish, though, is that only those that struggle against the line will ever have a chance of becoming free. Thus, what does it matter whether or not the other fish understand? What does it matter if there is still the possibility that the fisherman will win? In the end, the only thing that matters is that a fish that fights garners the chance to become free, and freedom is worth fighting for.
Saunders vs. Malters
The Chosen, by Chaim Potok, is a novel written about two Jewish boys growing up in Brookyln. Though they lived only five blocks from each other, Danny and Reuven lived very different lives, primarily because of the influence of their fathers. Reb Saunders and Mr. Malters approached raising a child, their Jewish faith, and the world in general from two very different perspectives. Despite the profound differences, both men tried very hard to do what was right for their sons.As fathers, Reb Saunders and Mr. Malters both loved their sons very much, however they demonstrated this love quite differently. Reb raised his son in complete silence, wanting him to learn compassion and to develop a soul to go with his great mind, talking to him only when studying the Torah. To be specific, unless it related to his religious studies, Reb did not talk to or with Danny after the age of 3. On the other hand, Mr. Malters placed a great deal of emphasis on good and frequent communication between himself and his son. Reb wanted Danny to find things out for himself, while Mr. Malters wanted Reuven to be able to come to him with questions. Mr. Malters and Reuven would often talk for hours about various subjects, such as the time Mr. Malters explained the history of Hasidism to him. Mr. Malters was his son’s friend and could be depended on for emotional support such as when President Roosevelt died. Danny did not have this close relationship with his father, thus explaining his dependency on Reuven. Even though Reb Saunders and Mr. Malters raised their sons in opposite ways, they did so out of love and deeply felt that they were doing the right thing. Because both Saunders and Malters were Jews, they had the same basic doctrines and worshiped the same God. However, because they belonged to different sects, there were some significant differences as well. Worshiping as a Hasid, Reb Saunders lived a strict and structured life. As the tzaddik, he was expected to bear the emotional burden of his people. Mr. Malters, not a rabbi, simply a scholar, was an orthodox Jew and abstained from the formality of Hasidism. While Hasids were required to wear earlocks, tallits and dark clothing at all times, orthodox Jews were not required to wear earlocks or dark clothing and only wore a tallit while praying. The Hasidic community felt it wrong to publish any kind of writing whereas in the orthodox community publishing was commonplace, a freedom Mr. Malters took advantage of. Both placed their son’s religious education as a top prority and actively observed all the Jewish holidays, though they did so in accordance with their own particular sect. Despite these differences, both men truly loved God and wanted to serve him in everything they did.Mr. Malters and Reb Saunders held drasticly opposite views on the world. Reb believed that he was simply passing through the world on his way to eternal life and that it was unimportant and burdening. In contrast, Mr. Malters thought life was important and needed to be productive. He said, ” A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life.” Mr. Malters felt it necessary to go out and change things in the world, while Reb shrank away from the world, in fear that it would corrode his faith. Beliving he had to protect himself from the evil found in the world, Reb said “A man is born into this world with only a tiny spark of goodness in him. The spark is God, it is the soul; the rest is ugliness and evil, a shell. The spark must be guarded like a treasure, it must be nurtured, it must be fanned into flame.” Reb Saunders feared the world would take him further from God, whereas Mr. Malters felt you had to take God to the world. Extremely different with very few similarities, Reb Saunders and Mr. Malters approached life from two angles, both truly seeking to do the right thing. They differed as fathers, as men of religion and men of the world but they were working towards the same goal; to raise their sons well. Both being successful, they raised two strong godly men, men who learned from their fathers and loved them for how they were raised.