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My Name is Asher Lev

Chaim Potok

Chapter 11

Chapter 10

Chapter 12

Summary

Asher begins study at the Ladover High School. He is surprised to discover that he has been enrolled in a French class. He questions the registrar about this and is told that the Rebbe explicitly requested that he study French throughout high school.

Asher prays for his parents and for Jacob Kahn on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. About three weeks later at Simchat Torah, a celebration of the Bible, Asher sees Jacob Kahn at the edge of a crowd among those watching the Ladover dancing in the streets. Asher pulls him into the celebration and they dance together with a Torah scroll.

Asher continues going to Kahn's studio on Sundays. In late October, Kahn has a show opening. Asher notices a sculpture depicted himself and Kahn. Anna marvels at what a success the show has been, but Jacob is unhappy. Jacob is sad that he does not have the resolve to simply stop having shows all together. Anna and Asher share a few words and she tells him that a very prominent family bought the sculpture of the heads of himself and Kahn. Asher feels a bit odd, knowing that his likeness will grace this family's home.

Asher's uncle decides to renovate the attic in order to give him a bigger space in which to live and work. To show his gratitude, Asher paints a portrait of their family for Chanukah. In January, Kahn takes Asher to a Van Gogh exhibit in Philadelphia. A month later, Asher discovers that Kahn had made a sculpture of the two of them dancing with a Torah. Kahn comes to a big Ladover celebration around the end of February. Kahn pulls Asher aside to tell him he will have to go to Europe for a month.

Asher's parents return at the end of March and stay at Uncle Yitzchok's house. There is tension between Asher and Aryeh. Yitzchok tries to talk to Aryeh, but it does no help. Rivkeh asks Asher to move to Vienna with them. He replies that his father will try to take away his art from him.

Kahn and Asher talk about his father's anger with him. Kahn says that he and his father have two different natures. He tells Asher to become a great artist; only in that way will he justify what he is doing to those who are close to him.

Asher's family mounts increasing pressure on him to move to Vienna. He relents. Jacob tells him that he needs to learn to think and act for himself. Asher gets sick in Vienna and is sent back home. He spends the rest of the summer with his uncle and then with Kahn in Provincetown.

The registrar of Asher's High School and the Rebbe's assistant both tell Asher he will study Russian in college. He refuses. The Rebbe speaks with him personally and tells him it might one day help him to travel to Russia to see art. He assents.

Asher visit's Anna's gallery with Kahn. She tells him that he will have a show in the spring. Yudel Krinsky, his Uncle, and his Mother are happy and proud. Kahn insists that Asher show his paintings of nudes. The show is a moderate success. The Rebbe's assistant comes, but leaves after seeing what is there.

Asher's parents decide not to return that summer and he spends the summer in Provincetown. His next show is the following spring. The following summer, Rivkeh and Aryeh return to Brooklyn.

Analysis

The Rebbe's power rears its head again at the beginning of this chapter. He decides that Asher should learn French and that is the end of it. The registrar enforces this decision at the High School and Asher accepts it. Interestingly, the Rebbe informs Asher of his decision, not by telling him, but by letting the Registrar tell him when he inquires as to why he is scheduled to take French. This is the way the Rebbe operates. When he decided that Asher should learn with Jacob Kahn, a similar event transpired. Rather than directly informing Asher of his decision, the Rebbe invited Kahn to his office the same night Asher came to speak with him and had Kahn approach Asher after his meeting with the Rebbe. In orchestrating these ways of delivering his decisions, the Rebbe creates an aura of inaccessibility about him. The aura also helps him seem as a more powerful leader, as he is able to control a veritable army of men to deliver his messages.

When Asher goes to Vienna, he becomes ill. In describing the scene, Potok does not simply rely on saying that Asher is ill, though. He uses language very carefully in writing this section in order to convey Asher's illness.

Metaphor plays a large role in the writing of this section. Asher says not that he gets on a plane to go back to America, but rather, "a man with a beard led me gently into a silver bird and sat with me through the clouds." The use of metaphor, such as the silver bird, for an airplane, helps preserve the dream- like quality of the scene. We can imagine a very sick Asher, half awake and half asleep, perceiving an airplane as a large bird.

The placement of detail further conveys the dreaminess of the scene. When it comes to events in the outside world, Asher provides only the barest of details. The details of his internal world are sharp and vivid though, for example his detailed memory of Yudel Krinsky telling him that Vienna hates Jews. By giving Asher a greater consciousness of his inner mental life and a reduced awareness of the world around him, Potok conveys the sense that Asher is ill, unable to fully perceive his surroundings.

The end of this chapter finds Asher caught between different ideas of what constitutes success. There is Anna's vision of success-getting rich through shows. Jacob's, slightly different, involves progressing as an artist and being recognized for it. These ideals collide with his community's vision of commitment to Torah and piety. This conflict comes out at two places-first, Asher hesitates over whether to show the nudes in his show; he relents when Jacob tells him they are important to his development, even though he knows the effect they will have on the Ladover in the audience. Second, Anna serves non- kosher food at the opening. The world of art into which Asher is entering insists on its acceptance of his standard of success when it conflicts with the Ladover ideal.

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