The Chosen, By Chaim PotokThe Chosen
The Chosen, a fiction novel written in 1967 by Chaim Potok, is about two young Jewish boys and their friendship. It takes us along with them on their journey from adolescence to adulthood. They face many conflicts, and through those trials the author makes his readers think more deeply into life’s true meanings.
The novel was set in New York during the Second World War. Since the main characters are Jews, this period of time is very significant. Not only were the Jews persecuted during WWII, but New York was also close to a military base, which made it a prime target for bombing. Even the setting has an underlying sense of tension.
One of the protagonists in The Chosen is Reuven Malter. Reuven is an orthodox Jewish boy. He is a very smart and diligent student. His father, David Malter raises Reuven alone in Brooklyn, New York as his mother has already passed away. Reuven has glasses, brown hair and eyes, and dresses in the typical orthodox manner. A plain boy, he has a bright mind and a very caring soul.
The other protagonist in the novel is Danny Saunders. Danny is the son of a very devoted Hasidic Jewish tzaddik. However, Danny is not a very enthusiastic Hasid. He has earlocks, grows a beard, and wears the traditional Hasidic outfit, but he doesn’t have the reverence for it that he should. Danny is a genius. His religion forbids him to read literature from the outside world, so he struggles with his thirst for knowledge and the restraints that have been put on him by both his father and his religion. He lives with his father, mother, older sister, and younger brother in Brooklyn as well.
The first antagonist is Danny. He and Reuven had many difficulties. They resolve their problems in the course of the book, but at the beginning they hate each other. Their religious views are also very opposite. Once they overcome their differences, they become best friends.
Reb Saunders is the second antagonist. A Hasidic tzaddik, he led his people into freedom in America. Reb has strange ideas on raising Danny. He believes that silence will teach Danny compassion and give him an understanding for pain. He does not talk to his son about anything but the Talmud. Loving and respecting each other immensely, Reb and Danny just never get a chance to express their feelings with one another. Reb holds Danny back and doesn’t allow him to reach his full potential, because he feels it is best for Danny.
The most important supporting character is David Malter, Reuven’s father. Mr. Malter is a journalist. Weak and often ill, he is a Zionist proud of his religion and heritage. He provides Danny with a worldview giving him the opportunity to expand his mind and broaden his viewpoint. He also gives Reuven self-confidence and the ability to make his own decisions. He supports Reuven, helps him through hard times, and shares insights with him. ?A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning,? Mr. Malter once said to his son.
Reuven acts as a buffer between Reb and Danny Saunders. Since Reb feels he can’t talk to Danny in order to raise him properly, he talks to Reuven about Danny. They talk to each other through Reuven. Reuven is also a very supportive and encouraging friend to Danny. He gives him advice and is willing to listen to Danny’s problems.
In this predominately Jewish setting, Billy Merrit and Tony Savo give Reuven a window into the outside world. Reuven learned about Gentile culture when with them. They serve an important role in the novel by teaching Reuven that suffering is universal and life isn’t always fair. It really awakened him to new ideas.
Each of the main characters have obvious flaws. Danny has a good mind, but no soul. He is brilliant, but he unable to relate to people. Reuven is very bright and relates well to people, but he finds forgiveness difficult in practice. When other characters wrong him, Reuven begrudges them and struggles with mercy. Reb Saunders only knew what was around him and what he had been taught. His worldview didn’t search for conclusions about matters bigger than his own circle.
In the beginning of the book, both Reuven’s and Danny’s rival schools play baseball against each other. Near the end of the game, Reuven gets hit in the eye with a ball Danny hits. As a piece of glass gets wedged in his eye, Reuven requires surgery and a stay in the hospital. Here he meets Billy and Tony, his first Gentile contacts. This accident actually brings Reuven and Danny together and the two begin spending a lot of time with each other.
Reuven begins to learn about the struggles Danny is facing with his father and the restrictions of his religion. Danny is destined to inherit his father’s job as a tzaddik, although he could have a bright future elsewhere. For this reason, Danny does not want to follow in his father’s footsteps, desiring to become a psychologist instead. He knows that he couldn’t live if he were confined into the ways of his father all his life, but he dreads telling his father about his choice. Because of his respect of his father, he doesn’t want to disappoint him. Yet, he doesn’t want to discard his religion either. Although his father wants to raise him as he himself was raised, he realizes that he can’t expect to keep such a genius in the cage. Reb finds out about Danny’s plans for the future, and although they contradict the way he would have wanted Danny to continue with his life, he agrees to let Danny decide for himself. Satisfied as a father, Reb says, ??I had to make certain his soul would be the soul of a tzaddik no matter what he did with his life.? Once Reb has given his son freedom, Danny remains faithful to his religion and, although he is not as devout, goes out into the world.
Throughout this novel, there is an underlying force of prejudice. The two different Jewish sects are prejudiced against one another. Alongside, WWII also has a lot of prejudices locked up in it. The Zionist and anti-Zionist movements were prejudiced toward each other and many of these examples are found in the novel.
Reuven Malter narrated The Chosen. This gives it a youthful perspective. It is very descriptive. Potok used many detailed vocabulary words to communicate his point. A lot of figurative language helps develop analogies and insights, as well. The Chosen is a very insightful novel about the Jewish culture and the trials that come with growing up.