My Name is Asher Lev

by: Chaim Potok

Asher Lev

Characters Asher Lev

Asher is a fascinating creature with two powerful and conflicting forces pulling him in opposite directions. The first is the community in which he is raised. The Ladover community is tight-knit and all encompassing. A person can live his entire life in this community without ever interacting with someone from the outside. Growing up, Asher's life is filled with religious indoctrination in school, at home, and from the people in his community with whom he interacts. He is inculcated with the values of the community and is taught to love God, Torah, and his fellow Jews. Furthermore, as an only child, he is raised to be particularly close to and dependent on his parents, who are, for Asher, at the center of this community.

Another equal, if not stronger, force plays a large role in Lev's life. From the time he is little, he has an intense desire to create art. When he is little, this manifests itself in innocuous doodling which turns into more structured drawing. As a boy, Lev is unable to control this desire and does not really understand it. Sometimes, he simply spaces out and draws. On one occasion, this desire leads him to steal; the strong influences in his life begin to come into conflict.

As an adolescent, Asher begins his study with Jacob Kahn. Kahn teaches him to channel his emotions into art. Asher begins to grow up and to gain some control over his gift. In these years, Asher balances his commitments to his community and to art. However, he never really thinks much about his commitment to religion and no serious conflict ever arises between the two. In many ways, he remains emotionally and intellectually immature.

As his period of time studying with Kahn comes to a close, Asher is at a crossroad. He has developed significantly as an artist, but is still a child. He leaves his home for Europe. There, free from his parents, he is finally able to understand his community better. He reflects on his upbringing and his parents and grows tremendously.

For the first time in his life, Asher faces serious internal conflict. He is tormented by his mother's anguish. His artistic impulse expresses her anguish in a painting that employs the crucifixion. He is faced with a dilemma—is he to display the painting and share his artistic vision with the world? If so, he will hurt his parents and his community. Asher, knowing the consequences will be dire, decides in favor of his artwork. Still, he is not fully resolved to his decision. My Name is Asher Lev concludes with Asher still, in many ways, unresolved. He was not fully comfortable with his decision to display his crucifixions, not comfortable with bringing pain to his parents. The book ends with him banished from a community, though he is not certain that he is ready to leave. He has by no means come to conclude that his artwork ought always to take precedence.