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The Chosen

Chaim Potok

Chapter 4

Chapter 3

Chapters 5–6

Summary: Chapter 4

David Malter visits Reuven again and tells him Dr. Snydman will examine his eye on Friday morning. Afterward, Reuven probably will be able to come home. Reuven tells his father about Danny’s last visit and comments that the way Danny looks does not match the way he speaks. Danny dresses like a Hasid, he says, but talks about Ivanhoe and Freud. Reuven’s father encourages him to befriend Danny, citing a Talmudic maxim that stresses the importance of choosing a friend for oneself. He also says, “A Greek philosopher said that two people who are true friends are like two bodies with one soul.” After Mr. Malter leaves, Mr. Savo warns Reuven to beware of fanatics like Danny. Reuven wakes up in the middle of the night and is concerned to see a curtain around Mr. Savo’s bed. The curtain is still up the next morning, and Reuven hears bustling activity and soft moaning from Mr. Savo’s bed. In the early evening, Danny comes to visit for a third time. Reuven is excited by Danny’s visit but worried about Mr. Savo, so he suggests they go into the hall to talk.

Reuven and Danny have a long conversation about their intellectual interests and their aspirations for the future. They discover that they were both born in the same place, Brooklyn Memorial Hospital, where Reuven is currently staying. Danny elaborates on his father’s belief in silence, saying that his father never speaks to him except when they are studying Torah and Talmud. Danny also confesses that even though his father tells him man’s mission in life is to obey God, sometimes he is not sure what God wants. Danny knows that he is expected to take his father’s place as head of the Hasidic dynasty, but he is not sure he wants to do so.

Reuven is surprised by Danny’s confession and even more shocked when Danny reveals that he reads seven or eight non-religious books a week, including writings by authors like the evolutionists Darwin and T. H. Huxley, of whom Reb Saunders would not approve. Danny tells Reuven that a nice man in the library recommends books for him to read. Reuven tells Danny he doesn’t know what to make of him, saying, “You look like a Hasid, but you don’t sound like one.”

After a silence, Reuven tells Danny about his love for mathematics. Danny knows little about math, and he is excited that Reuven knows so much about a subject he knows nothing about. In the middle of their conversation, Reuven’s father comes to visit, and both boys are astonished to learn that Mr. Malter is the man who has been recommending books to Danny in the library. Reuven is stunned and a little hurt that his father said nothing to him about this activity, but David Malter explains that he was only trying to respect Danny’s privacy. After recovering from his initial shock, Danny thanks Mr. Malter for all his reading recommendations and promises to visit Reuven on Saturday afternoon, after he is home from the hospital.

When Reuven wakes up on Friday morning, the curtain is no longer drawn around Mr. Savo’s bed, but Billy’s bed is now empty. Mr. Savo tells Reuven that Billy is undergoing the operation to restore his sight. Reuven prays for Billy and then nervously goes to have his examination with Dr. Snydman. The doctor examines Reuven and tells him that he thinks the scar tissue will heal correctly. Reuven is very excited to return home, and he says goodbye to Mr. Savo. Before he leaves, he learns that Mr. Savo’s bad eye had to be removed.

Analysis: Chapter 4

Like Chapter 3, Chapter 4 contains many scenes that do not directly relate to the novel’s main story about the relationship between Reuven and Danny. Potok details Reuven’s reaction to Mr. Savo’s surgery, and he emphasizes Billy Merrit’s surgery. The chapter ends with the news that Mr. Savo has to have his eye removed, a revelation that reminds Reuven and us of the presence of suffering, especially undeserved or needless suffering. We pity Mr. Savo and Billy because their injuries are horrible and arose through no fault of their own. Potok intersperses examples of needless, random suffering throughout the novel to reinforce suffering as a fundamental, ever-present aspect of human existence.

Over the course of Reuven and Danny’s long conversation, we see that the two boys have much in common. They share a ravenous intellectual curiosity, they both study Talmud diligently, they both evidence a deep commitment to and respect for Jewish tradition, they are both taught by David Malter, and they were even born in the same hospital. More important, we see how they complement each other: Danny is interested in science and the humanities, while Reuven’s strength is in mathematics. Danny is delighted to learn that Reuven knows so much about a subject with which he is unfamiliar because he sees that Reuven is an intellectual equal who can teach him about things he cannot learn on his own. Throughout The Chosen, all the characters hunger for knowledge, and Danny’s excitement over Reuven’s ability to teach him foreshadows the mutually beneficial role the boys will play in each other’s life. Each will teach and be taught by the other.

The epigraph of Book One of The Chosen is a quotation from Proverbs. It reads, “I was a son to my father. . . . And he taught me and said to me, ‘Let your heart hold fast my words. . . .’” This quotation emphasizes the importance of teaching imparted by a father to a son, and it is in his relationship to his father that Reuven’s situation differs most strikingly from Danny’s. Whereas Reuven’s father speaks to Reuven freely about all subjects, Reb Saunders only teaches Danny about Jewish law and custom. Reb Saunders attempts to restrict his son’s education to Hasidic customs and precepts, reflecting a small-minded and limited worldview in which such topics are the only ones worth learning.

Reb Saunders’s silence seems unusually cruel and inexplicable, and his lack of non-liturgical interaction seems to imply a fundamental distance or coldness in his relationship with Danny. But in this chapter, Potok hints that silence doesn’t always imply coldness and distance when, after Danny reveals his doubts about God’s will and Reuven responds, the two boys “[sit] in silence a long time. It was a warm silence, though, not in the least bit awkward.” This brief passage foreshadows the multifaceted role silence plays later in the novel.

When Reuven says to Danny, “You look like a Hasid, but you don’t sound like one,” he shows that one’s senses can contradict and complement one another, each offering insight into the world that the others lack. Although Reuven’s eye heals completely, his experience in the hospital teaches him how fragile his vision is, both literally (in terms of the injury to his eye) and figuratively (in terms of his misperceptions about Danny). By listening to Danny, Reuven learns aspects of his friend that his eyes could never see.

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