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My Name is Asher Lev

Chaim Potok

Important Quotations Explained

Chapter 14

Key Facts

I put five tubes of oil color, a bottle of turpentine, and a bottle of linseed oil into my coat pockets. I slipped two bristle brushes into my loose-leaf notebook. Before I left the store I bought a small canvas board; I had enough money for that.

This is the episode in Chapter 5 where Asher steals paint from Krinsky's store. It shows us the power of Asher's urge to create art. It causes him to commit an action that he has been trained to revile. Asher is more complex and soon the conflict between his art and his community sets in. Even before he leaves the store, he feels guilty and buys a canvas. When he later tries to use the paints, he feels too guilty at having stolen them, confesses his sin, and returns the merchandise.

I saw a folded piece of paper on the chair I had occupied earlier. I stopped and picked it up and unfolded it. It was a pencil drawing, a photographic likeness of my face made with an exquisite economy of line and without light and shade. The lower right-hand corner of the drawing contained a signature: Jacob Kahn. Below the signature was the date: 1–10–56.

This event takes place in Chapter 7, immediately after Asher has had his pre-Bar Mitzvah meeting with the Rebbe. Asher returns to the waiting room and discovers this drawing. A new world begins to open before his eyes. The date, 1–10–56, and the form in which it is written are indelibly burned in his memory. The date is significant as it is the secular date, as it represents Asher's first real interaction with the secular world. This even marks a turning point in Asher's life. Kahn introduces himself to Asher and arranges to begin teaching him. This marks the end of Asher's days as a directionless amateur and the beginning of his development into an artistic genius.

Away from my world, alone in an apartment that offered me neither memories nor roots, I began to find old and distant memories of my own, long buried by pain and time and slowly brought to the surface now…. Now I would have to paint the street that could not be seen.

Removed from the familiar and comforting world of his childhood, Asher is forced to reach back into the recesses of his mind. This quotation, from Chapter 13 after Asher has moved into his own apartment in Paris, represents a turning point in Asher's relationship to his past. He finally begins to reflect on his past and on his relationship to his parents, his family, and his community. He begins to see himself as situated within that community in a unique way, but still as a part of it. These memories, he says he will paint. What comes out of the painting of these reflections are his crucifixions—his crowning achievements—but also the paintings that separate him from his community and reduce it permanently to his memories.

I saw my mythic ancestor. Come with me, my precious Asher. You and I will walk together through the centuries, each of us for our separate deeds that unbalanced the world.

This is what happens to Asher after he tells his mother that she and his father should come to his show. He has reconciled himself to showing them the crucifixion paintings he has made of his family. This quote represents the way Asher has reconciled the matter to himself. He knows that his act will "unbalance the world." Yet, he sees this act as one that brings him closer to his mythic ancestor, a great man, whom Asher imagines to have also "unbalanced the world." Asher sees himself as something of a mythic figure. He sees his display of art as carrying with it great significance as he expects to "walk…through the centuries."

Wherever I travel now, there is always someone who knows your name. 'Are you the father of Asher Lev, the painter?' they ask me. It's a very strange feeling. Asher Lev, the painter.

Aryeh says this to Asher as they are talking over the Sabbath. This quote shows us where Aryeh has come in his relationship to Asher. It is in the midst of a longer dialogue in which Aryeh is asking Asher about his life as an artist and seems genuinely interested and affectionate. Still, he has not been able to reconcile himself fully to Asher's choice of life. It still seems "strange" to him. This quote also shows the reversal that has taken place in their roles. Throughout the book, Aryeh has been in the spotlight—everyone has called Asher, "the son of Reb Aryeh Lev." Now, however, Aryeh is finally encountering people to whom he is the father of artist Asher Lev.

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