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My Name is Asher Lev

Chaim Potok

Study Questions and Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Compare and contrast the way Asher's parents relate to him.

My Name is Asher Lev focuses heavily on the clash between cultures and the coming of age of a boy caught between two opposed traditions. This conflict is further conveyed in the mixed usage of language from both worlds. For example, at the very beginning of the book there is a paragraph beginning, "Often on Shabbos or festivals…." Here, the colloquial Yiddish word, "Shabbos" for the Sabbath is juxtaposed with the English word, "festivals," for the holidays. In Lev's household, the word "festivals would not have been used. This juxtaposition makes clear the change Lev has undergone and the continued cultural conflict in which he is mired. After all, he has forsaken only some, but not all of the Hebrew or Yiddish expressions for English ones.

Asher's father is distant from Asher. He has a very different sense of the world, does not particularly approve of art, and wishes his son were not an artist. He does not understand what someone could see in art. Even when he tries late in the book to understand, it only leads to frustration for him and Asher, as they are unable to communicate.

Asher's mother, in contrast, is more supportive. Rivkeh has had a broader range of emotional experience and seems to be a more mature character than Aryeh. She engages Asher's interest in art, by bringing him to museum. She also buys him art supplies, even though she knows it will anger Aryeh, and brings him a book about the spirit of the artist.

Discuss the conflict Asher faces between art and religion.

When Asher is younger, this conflict is more external—his artistic impulse drives him to do certain things of which others in his community disapprove. One notable example of this is the episode when Asher draws a picture of the Rebbe in his Chumash. Further, Asher's artistic impulses cause him to steal oil paints from Krinsky's store.

When Asher is older, the conflict becomes more internal. He becomes more aware of what is at stake and has to consciously make decisions about what is more important. The most significant example of this is his decision to display the crucifixion. In doing so, he consciously chooses to hurt his family and community in order to remain true to his art and share his artistic vision.

How does the use of language contribute to the ideas presented in My Name is Asher Lev?

Suggested Essay Topics

Who plays the largest role in Asher's life and development?

What is the significance of Asher's "mythic ancestor"?

Why does Asher Lev remain an Observant Jew?

Discuss the significance of Asher's lengthy stay in Europe.

Why does Potok choose to set My Name is Asher Lev in a Hasidic community?

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