My Name is Asher Lev
Aryeh writes about a week after Passover to let his family know that he is all right. He asks Rivkeh to join him in Europe for the summer. Asher stays with his Uncle Yitzchok and goes to Jacob Kahn's studio two to three times per week.
Kahn tells Asher that there are two ways to paint the world—as a geometric design or as a flower. Kahn sees the world organized through geometric structures and this is what he paints, and only rarely will he portray it as beautiful. He sees the world as an awful place and his artwork gives him a way to express his feelings in a lasting, material form. He sees Asher painting a peer who has been picking on him. He chastises Asher for not putting his true hatred into the picture. He tells him to stop being afraid and to use his art to express what he is really feeling.
In mid-July, Kahn takes Asher to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kahn shows Asher many crucifixions in order to show him developments in artistic techniques. Asher dreams of crucifixions that night and tells Jacob the next day that he does not want to see any more of them. Kahn screams at him, telling him that if he wants to "paint Rabbis," he should leave. If he wants to be an artist, he will have to master the history of art, which will include crucifixions and naked women.
One day Kahn brings a model into the studio. Asher is, at first, hesitant to draw her in the nude. Kahn cajoles him a little and, though concerned the Rebbe and his Mashpia would not approve of such paintings, Asher assents. He spends the rest of the day working on painting the human form. Kahn is very pleased with the progress he makes in this limited period. She begins posing for him weekly and his mastery of the nude form continues. Asher begins going to the studio almost daily. He learns a lot about different artistic movements simply by overhearing Kahn talk with other artists.
At the beginning of September, Asher's parents return from Vienna. His father tells him that he is still unhappy with his decision to paint so much. His mother asks Asher if he would mind moving in with Uncle Yitzchok for a year so she could live in Europe with Aryeh. Rivkeh begins pressuring Asher to decide whether it would be all right for her to leave. This weighs on his mind and affects his artwork. He tells her he does not want her to move. Finally, she tells Asher that his father needs her and she will go to live with him.
The classmate whom Asher despises sticks two insulting poems on his desk on successive days. In retaliation, Asher draws scenes of Hell from Michelangelo's The Last Judgement, and he replaces the faces in the original with drawings of this student's face and leaves the pictures for him. The student is suitably shaken and stops bothering Asher.
Asher has a meeting with the Rebbe to discuss his mother's move and his artwork. The Rebbe tells him the move is for the best and warns him to be careful in the world of the "Other Side" into which he is entering. Asher finds out he will one day have his own show in Anna Schaeffer's studio. He wishes his mother farewell and she departs for Europe. Asher moves into his uncle's home.
The image of Asher painting without a shirt is another way Potok demonstrates the effects of painting on Asher's relationship with religion. As his uncle tells him, painting in that mode of dress is not strictly in accord with the way a Ladover is expected to conduct himself. His uncle's requirement that he wear his ritual fringes in the house imbues the two places Asher paints with added significance. In Kahn's studio, Asher can paint bareback, freeing himself from anything that might bind him. In his uncle's home, though allowed to paint, Asher is constricted, literally and metaphorically, by the ritual fringes he is forced to wear. Kahn's studio becomes a place free of religion and open to all artistic expression. Brooklyn, bubbling with religious activity however, is not a place where Asher is truly free to create.
The painting Asher tries to make of his mother carries a great significance. As Jacob Kahn tells him, Asher is confused and it shows itself in his painting. Asher's artwork has always given a glimpse into his inner mental life. Here, his artwork makes it clear that he is confused and emotionally in turmoil. There has always been a certain unconscious quality to Asher's painting. He is never quite completely aware of what he is doing. He is not self-consciously painting what he does-his intellectual and emotional development lag far behind his artistic development. This incongruence comes out particularly clearly in this episode. Asher does not know how to deal with his emotions. He both loves his mother and is angry with her for wanting to leave him. He is excited and scared in the face of his potential freedom. He feels betrayed by her, even though he knows she has always supported him. Though an artistic genius, emotionally Asher is very much a teenager. No wonder he cannot resolve his conflicting feelings.
The events at the very end of the chapter may seem, at first glance, disconnected. Asher meets with the Rebbe; he visits Anna Schaeffer's studio and is later told he will have his own show there; his mother packs up and departs for Europe; and he goes to his uncle's house. In these seemingly disjointed happenings however, a theme develops. Asher is growing up and becoming more independent. The Rebbe acknowledges this in deciding that Rivkeh should move to Europe and in his warnings to Asher about the "Other Side." The art world deems that Asher will be soon ready to stand on his own-to have his own show. The protective world of Asher's youth is receding. Asher is to live without his parents for the first time in his life. Further, notice the placement of all of these events right at the end of Book 2. With these developments, Asher closes a chapter in his life and is set for new and different adventures.
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