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The Chosen

Chaim Potok

Chapter 1

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Chapter 1, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary: Chapter 1

I stood in that room for a long time, watching the sunlight and listening to the sounds on the street outside. I stood there, tasting the room and the sunlight and the sounds, and thinking of the long hospital war

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The narrator, Reuven Malter, describes the neighborhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where he has lived for the first fifteen years of his life. Reuven’s neighborhood is populated by Orthodox Jews, including some Hasidic sects. All the children attend yeshivas—Jewish parochial schools—in the area. Reuven then mentions Danny Saunders, a Hasidic friend. Danny and Reuven grew up five blocks away from each other. However, Reuven explains, the two never met because Danny’s Hasidic community kept to itself, remaining fiercely loyal to its own synagogue and customs. Reuven notes that he probably would never have met Danny if not for the competitive Jewish sports leagues created during World War II.

One June afternoon, Reuven’s Orthodox Jewish high school softball team plays a game against Danny’s Hasidic team. As Reuven’s team warms up, his enthusiastic and martial coach, Mr. Galanter, shouts out instructions and encouragements. Meanwhile, Reuven’s friend, Davey Cantor, warns Reuven that their opponents, students at a very religious yeshiva, are “murderers.” When the yeshiva boys arrive dressed in their traditional religious garb, Reuven doubts that they will pose a serious challenge.

The rabbi accompanying the yeshiva team insists that his boys practice for five minutes on the field before the game begins, and Mr. Galanter reluctantly agrees. Reuven notices one particularly strong batter on the yeshiva team, whom Davey identifies as Danny Saunders, the son of Reb Saunders.

Just before the game begins, the rabbi and coach of Danny’s team tells his boys to “remember why and for whom we play.” The Hasidic team bats first, and Reuven takes his position at second base. After the first two hitters are retired, the third, a bullish boy named Dov Shlomowitz, smacks a line drive. On his way around the base path, Dov charges into Reuven, knocking him down. Danny Saunders bats next, and hits the ball directly at the pitcher’s head, forcing the pitcher to dive off the mound. Danny makes it safely to second base, and between batters, Reuven congratulates Danny on his hit. Danny identifies Reuven as the son of David Malter, who writes articles on the Talmud. He tells Reuven, “We’re going to kill you apikorsim this afternoon.” Reuven, struck by Danny’s rudeness, sarcastically tells him to rub his tzitzit—traditional fringe—for good luck.

The next time Danny is up at bat, he again smacks the ball over the pitcher’s head, but Reuven makes a remarkable leaping catch. By the top half of the fifth and final inning, Reuven’s team is leading five to three. Reuven takes over as pitcher and baffles the first hitter he faces, Dov Shlomowitz, with his wicked curveball. Danny bats next and rings up two strikes as Reuven’s curve dives below Danny’s swing. Reuven then pitches two balls, but by Reuven’s fifth pitch, Danny adjusts to the diving action of the curve. He deliberately swings low and crushes a line drive back toward the mound. Reuven brings his glove to his face to catch the ball, but it hits the tip of his glove and bounces back onto his glasses, shattering them. While lying on the ground, Reuven imagines he sees Danny smiling at the injury. Reuven sits out for the rest of the game and watches his team lose eight to seven. After the game, Mr. Galanter calls a cab to take him to the hospital.

Analysis: Chapter 1

Potok focuses on a handful of motifs and themes in The Chosen, carefully weaving them throughout the entire novel. The world of the novel is a carefully controlled, patiently manipulative, and exclusive environment, much like the Jewish communities of Williamsburg in which Danny and Reuven grow up. Both the novel and Williamsburg communities operate as self-contained environments, within which Potok carefully selects and highlights particular details.

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