The Chosen

by: Chaim Potok

Symbols

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Eyes and Eyeglasses

The prevalence of eyes and eyeglasses in The Chosen reflects the novel’s emphasis on perception of the world and of oneself. Eyes and eyeglasses represent vision, not only in the literal sense, but also in a broader, figurative sense. After injuring his eye, Reuven develops a better appreciation of his eyesight. At the beginning of Danny and Reuven’s friendship, Danny works to make Reuven more aware and more willing to open his eyes to the world. As Danny develops an increased awareness of the world beyond his Hasidic community, his eyes grow weary and he begins to wear glasses.

Eyes are not just used for looking; they are also meant to be looked at. The way characters’ eyes reveal their interior states implies that perception is a two-way process, not only about looking but about studying and receiving as well. When angry and withdrawn, David Malter’s eyes become dark. When pleased and proud, Reb Saunders’s eyes mist over. David Malter uses the eye as an example of the miracle of life, saying, “the eye that blinks, that is something.” Mentions of eyes in the novel symbolize the importance of perception, and also the way reciprocity can improve perception.

The Talmud

Throughout The Chosen, there is only limited discussion of the Torah, the Jewish Bible and most holy of texts, and almost no mention of the Kabbalah, the mystic literature that is very important to Hasidic tradition. Instead, Potok places an unusual emphasis on the Talmud, which contains a series of commentaries by rabbis. Study of the Talmud, as demonstrated in the novel, involves active engagement of its commentaries and a willingness to challenge the text and to resolve conflicting points. Therefore, Potok’s emphasis on Talmudic study in The Chosen symbolizes the importance of actively engaging tradition and pursuing knowledge in order to attain a unique and personal interpretation of Judaism and the world in general.


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