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My Name is Asher Lev

Chaim Potok

Chapter 14

Chapter 13

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

So as not to worry his parents too much, Asher does not tell them details about his travel plans. He returns home to an empty house, but calls the Rebbe's assistant to find out that they are at the University of Chicago for a couple of days. The next morning, his parents call to let him know they will be arriving later in the day. He walks around the streets of his community and runs into Yudel Krinsky. They go inside Krinsky's shop and chat, just like old times. He stops into his Uncle Yitzchok's store to say hello. Yitzchok greets him warmly and asks if he can come to the show. He says he will come if there are no nudes. Asher assures him that there won't be. Asher feels uneasy, because he is certain Yitzchok will be disturbed by the crucifixions.

Asher calls Anna. She tells him that most of the work in the show will be sold by the time it opens. He arranges to meet her at the studio at three o'clock. Asher naps and dreams of his mythic ancestor once again. He awakens and rides into Manhattan. Asher asks Anna about the crucifixions. She says they will be the climax of the show. He tells her he is worried they will hurt people, and that that art does that sometimes and he should not trouble himself with concern.

Asher returns home and sees his parents. They are happy to see him and tell him about the projects in which they will be involved, bringing Judaism to college campuses. Asher's mother asks whether his father will be able to attend the show. Asher answers that he is displaying no nudes, so he can come. Asher imagines his parents in the gallery, coming to the end of the exhibition and seeing the paintings. He then imagines his mythic ancestor and feels a kinship with him.

Asher goes to visit an ailing Jacob Kahn, who has warm words of praise for him and for himself. Talking about Asher, he says that he "sculpted a David.…a breathing David." Asher speaks with Tanya for a moment and leaves, wishing Jacob better health.

Asher passes the Sabbath nervous in anticipation. His father discusses with him his life as a painter, taking a more interested and understanding tone. He reveals that a major Manhattan museum bought two of his paintings that week. He tells them they will see the paintings at the show.

The next day, Asher goes to the gallery early and sees how everything is hung. He is troubled by the crucifixions and cannot bear to look at them. Anna introduces Asher to many of her big customers who have come in for the show. The mobs begin to pour in and seem to love the show. Asher's parents arrive; he introduces them to Anna and begins to take them around. They arrive at the end and see the Crucifixion paintings and they are horrified. They storm out of the show and tell him he has crossed a line—they are too angry for further words.

Everything in the community has changed. People, including his parents, barely talk to him and are extremely cold. The Rebbe, still the infinitely wise man, understands all sides of the dispute. He understands that Asher has used the crucifix because of its centrality to the Western artistic tradition. He also understands that the Ladover laymen do not, cannot, and will not understand this. In such an emotionally charged environment, rife with misunderstanding, the Rebbe recognizes that a resolution will not be reached. So, he sends Asher away, tells him he must leave the community. Asher books a flight to Paris the next day. He leaves behind parents, torn and hurt by the son they do not understand.

Analysis

After Asher tells his mother that there will be no nudes in the show, he imagines them seeing the crucifixions. He then sees his mythic ancestor, who tells him that they "will walk together now…for our [their] separate deeds that unbalanced the world." Asher has reconciled himself to showing the crucifixions to his family. However, he knows that they will cause a great disturbance and publicly displaying these pictures will "unbalance the world." His ancestor appears at this particular moment, because by now, Asher has decided to go ahead with showing the paintings to his parents. Ironically, it is now that he is able to fully connect with his past. Only as he is about to significantly hurt his parents does Asher feel a true bond with his family. Just as Asher has used appropriated others' artistic symbols to convey his emotion, he has appropriated his family history for his own use, altering it, changing the story of his father's great-great-grandfather to attribute new motivations to him. In both instances, he has taken someone else's symbol, such as the crucifixion, along with his family and his mythic ancestors, and altered it for his own purposes.

The depiction of Asher's family in a crucifix is a major achievement for Asher. Asher knows that the painting of his family using the motif of the crucifixion will bring his parents tremendous pain. He has come a long way to understand the type of pain his mother has gone through. His way of expressing this awareness, though, is through producing a painting that depicts this pain. That is why he creates the painting. Steeped in the artistic tradition, the crucifixion means a great deal to him: it is the ultimate symbol of suffering. So, it is natural that Asher would use this symbol to convey the pain his mother has felt. Of course, though, those not steeped in the artistic tradition would not attach the same meaning to the Crucifixion as Asher does. The Ladover community, and particularly Asher's father, has very different associations with the crucifixion. For them, the crucifix is the symbol of a religion and a culture that has persecuted Jews and attempted to destroy Judaism for millennia. For Asher's father, it represents the cause of his father's death, his father having been killed by an ax-toting, Russian peasant the night before Easter. Still, Asher feels that his message needs to be expressed and allows the painting to be displayed.

In displaying the painting, he prioritizes his artistic world above his Jewish world. Only those for whom the crucifix carries the connotations that it does for Asher, that is those who are part of the art community, will understand the message Asher is conveying. Ashe is hanging the painting for them. The Ladover community does not understand the language of paint with which Asher speaks; thus, instead of understanding the powerful emotions he is trying to convey, they are angered and hurt.

Asher, in coming to understand his mother's pain and to paint it, causes her more pain. He recognizes the problem with this, but offers no resolution. He muses that Kahn once told him he can justify the pain he is causing by becoming a great artist. But, he realizes, that only causes more pain, so then he will have to become a greater artist still.

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