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The Chosen

Chaim Potok

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full title  ·  The Chosen

author  ·  Chaim Potok

type of work  ·  Novel

genre  ·  Bildungsroman; Jewish-American Literature

language  ·  English

time and place written  ·  19601967, in Philadelphia, Israel, and Brooklyn

date of first publication  ·  1967

publisher  ·  Simon and Schuster

narrator  ·  The Chosen is narrated by Reuven Malter, who reflects several years after the events of the novel on his coming-of-age in Brooklyn.

point of view  ·  Reuven Malter, the narrator, speaks in the first-person. He explains events in chronological order, adjusting his perspective over the course of the novel to reflect his increasing maturity. Reuven’s narration is not omniscient, as he does not know what others are thinking or feeling. Instead, he reveals Reuven’s observations of others’ behavior and analyzes other characters’ thoughts and emotions.

tone  ·  Reuven is an introspective, highly intellectual young man. As a result, he is rarely quick to judge others, and usually spends time considering multiple perspectives, trying to be as thoughtful and open-minded as possible. These qualities only improve as his relationship with Danny alters the way he looks at the world. It is important to note that for the majority of the novel, Reuven is very quick to judge Reb Saunders and rather harsh in his judgment. Only at the very end of the novel does he learn that he has not been seeing the complexity of Reb Saunders’s character.

tense  ·  Past

settings (time)  ·  Early summer, 1944 to fall, 1950

setting (place)  ·  The neighborhood of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York

protagonists  ·  Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders

major conflict  ·  Danny’s struggle between his family and religious obligations, and his desire to become a psychologist is the novel’s central conflict. Reuven experiences this conflict indirectly—as he helps Danny struggle through it, he struggles to understand it himself.

rising action  ·  After Danny injures Reuven during a softball game, the two boys become friends and teach each other all sort of lessons. After many years, Danny’s father, Reb Saunders, decides to end Danny’s friendship with Reuven. Eventually the boys are permitted to become friends again. Reuven discovers that Danny has applied and been accepted to graduate programs in psychology, even though Reb Saunders expects Danny to take over the leadership of his Hasidic community.

climax  ·  Using Reuven as a buffer through whom he can speak to his son, Reb Saunders confronts Danny. He asks his son about his plans and explains his reasons for treating Danny with silence for so many years.

falling action  ·  After Reb Saunders issues his approval of Danny’s plans for psychology, Danny and Reuven leave and walk together in silence. Reuven and Danny graduate from Hirsch College, and Danny goes on to graduate school at Columbia University. Reuven says farewell to Danny.

themes  ·  The importance of parallels to individual growth; silence as a path to the soul; the conflict between tradition and modernity; choosing versus being chosen

motifs  ·  Father-son relationships; perception; suffering

symbols  ·  Eyes and eyeglasses; the Talmud

foreshadowing  ·  Foreshadowing is prevalent throughout The Chosen. The warm silence between Reuven and Danny at the hospital foreshadows the positive side of Reb Saunders’ silence. David Malter’s comments to his son about the dangers of being a buffer foreshadow the uncomfortable role Reuven will play as a buffer between Danny and Reb Saunders. Danny’s revelation that his father inherited his role as a tzaddik when his brother (Danny’s uncle) abandoned the family dynasty foreshadows the fact that Reb Saunders will have a complex and perhaps sympathetic response to Danny’s own situation.

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