My Name is Asher Lev

by: Chaim Potok

Chapter 13

Summary Chapter 13

Analysis

Alone in Paris, Asher is filled with memories of his past. Here, he begins to think about the things people have said to him and begins to have a greater understanding of them. For years, Asher has been painting and living in a world without really reflecting on it. For years, he did not really understand what was going on with the people he loved, what effect he was having on their lives. Now, in his solitude, he begins to understand the pain his mother experienced when he was younger. He understands that it must have been extremely difficult for her living in a household, in the midst of the conflict between himself and his father. These moments of reflection are immensely important for Asher. He is becoming an individual more aware of the implications of his actions, more attuned to the influence his work has on others.

The scene in which Asher thinks back to his mythic ancestor is one of true literary achievement. Potok ties together a number of ideas he has been developing throughout the book. Asher employs the image of his mythic ancestor, carrying with it a Jewish and family history central to Asher's upbringing, to understand his own journey. The language Potok uses is immensely terse, and much is implied but not said. Asher thinks, "Had a dream-haunted Jew spent the rest of his life sculpting form out of the horror of his private night?" This is a well-formulated thought that conveys the parallel between his life and his grandfathers. Potok does not spend many pages on the development of this thought, but gives it to us fully formed. The paragraph in which this metaphor is written is written with this intensity throughout. The thoughts presented are meant to overpower the reader in much the same way that Lev, thinking them, is overpowered.

Asher feels that the first painting of his mother is incomplete. He thinks back and remembers his mother asking him, "can you understand what it means for something to be incomplete?" At this moment, he finally understands. This episode comes in the midst of a chapter where Asher is coming to grips with his past. This is yet another significant discovery he has made about his past—it helps him to feel like he understands his mother's pain better. This discovery helps him produce better artwork.