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My Name is Asher Lev

Chaim Potok

Chapter 5

Chapters 3–4

Chapters 6 and 7

Summary

Asher is brought to a pediatrician and an eye doctor, but they find nothing wrong with him. The following day in class, Asher spaces out, only to be interrupted by one of his classmates who, horrified, is screaming at him. The teacher comes over and looks in Asher's Chumash (the book containing the Torah, the five books of Moses). He scolds Asher severely and asks what his father would think of this. Asher looks down into his book to see that he has drawn a picture of the Rebbe across one of the pages of his Chumash. He does not remember having drawn the picture, but it is there. His picture makes the Rebbe look evil and threatening.

After school, Asher goes to Krinsky's store. He tells him about the drawing he made in school. Krinsky is suitably reprimanding, but in a gentler way. Krinsky tells Asher to help him sort the oil colors that have come into the store. Asher asks about oil paints and discovers that he would not have enough money to buy the paints, brushes, and canvas necessary to paint with them. Dismayed, he leaves.

Asher returns home late and in a daze. His mother is frenzied, but he is unaffected. The mashpia, the man in charge of spiritual development at Asher's school, calls both his parents and requests Asher to meet him the following morning.

The mashpia treats Asher gently, noticing that Asher seems to feel sick. He talks to Asher about his family's past and the importance of the Jewish nation. He acknowledges the importance of Asher's artistic gift, but emphasizes to him the importance of the greater community. The mashpia questions Asher about the drawing and believes him that it was not done purposefully. Throughout this conversation, Asher's mind is wandering and he is only half paying attention. When the mashpia brings up Asher's family's impending move to Vienna, Asher breaks down. The mashpia comforts him and then gives him a pencil and notebook. He asks Asher to make him a drawing. The mashpia leaves the room and Asher sits there, drawing many pictures of scenes from around the Ladover community. The pictures are generally cheerful and reverent. Asher leaves the notebook behind in the office, but is disgusted with himself. He feels like the pictures are lies.

Asher returns home very late to a once again frantic mother. He tells her he has been at the museum. The next day, Asher stops by Yudel Krinsky's shop after school. When Krinsky is not looking, Asher steals some oil paints and brushes. He does, however, purchase canvas before heading home. Asher's father scolds him for his irresponsibility and calls his drawing "foolishness." Asher begins to spend his afternoons in the museum only when his father is away travelling.

Asher feels remorseful and returns the paints. Over the summer, his mother tells him what has been going on in terms of the family's move to Vienna. In light of Asher's condition, the Rebbe had decided he could not go to Vienna. Originally, Asher's parents had decided to go to Vienna and leave Asher with his Uncle Yitzchok. But, seeing the burden Asher was, they decided it would be best if Rivkeh stayed with him. Asher and his mother send Aryeh off to Vienna alone.

Analysis

Asher's trip to the doctor at the beginning of the chapter brings up two recurrent themes of the book. First, Asher writes that the Doctor told him it would be good for his soul to visit the museum. Then, Asher tells us that the doctor substituted the Hebrew word, neshomoh for soul. This highlights the different languages spoken by Asher as he is writing the book, and the world in which he grew up. Second, this reinforces how pervasively Jewish Asher's early Ladover world was. Everyone with whom he interacts, even his doctor, speak the language of his Jewish community.

The drawing of the Rebbe that Asher makes in his Chumash is laden with symbolism. First, the Chumash and the Rebbe are two of the most important elements of the Ladover world. The Chumash, the Torah, is its most important book, and the Rebbe is its most important leader. Asher takes these two and puts them together in a way that desecrates both. Symbolically, his art is attacking his Jewish world. The incident itself shows how attached Asher is to his artwork and the hold that art has over him. It is as if art is the most natural thing for him to do and he does it unconsciously, without trying. Finally, the picture provides a glimpse into Asher's unconscious. Asher is unhappy with the Rebbe for asking his father to move to Vienna. In demonizing the Rebbe through art, Asher expresses his anger.

The pictures that Asher draws for the Mashpia leave him with a feeling of self- contempt. He has drawn the world the way he thinks the mashpia wants to see it. It is a world filled with happiness and positive portrayals of Ladover life. This is the world his mother implored him to paint when he was younger. He has never seen the world through such false lenses. Depicting the world in this way, and worse, using his gift to create lies, is perhaps the most troubling thing Asher could do to himself.

Notice that Asher is much happier with the picture he unconsciously drew in class, then with those he purposely drew in the mashpia's office. This shows us how confused Asher is at this stage in his life. He has not yet learned to be comfortable with his gift and his self, to full channel his feelings into his artwork.

Asher's continual late returns home are a way of showing how distant from the world around him he is becoming. He is completely wrapped up in himself and, so, unaware of what he is doing, when he is doing it, and that it has an effect on those who love him.

Asher's theft is another significant expression of his passion for art. In order to experiment artistically, he is driven to steal. He is, however, not without remorse. In order to assuage a guilty conscience, Asher buys a canvas board.

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