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Although The Chosen focuses equally on
both Reuven’s and Danny’s personal and religious development, it
is Danny’s story that provides the central conflict of the novel
and sets in motion both protagonists’ process of discovery. Danny
and Reuven’s similarities—their love of learning, quick minds, and
deep Jewish faith—allow them to relate to one another and become
friends. At the same time, their differences in family situations,
culture, and relationships to the non-Jewish secular world allow
them to learn from one another. Throughout the novel, Danny learns
restraint and introspection from Reuven. As Reb Saunders points
out in the final chapter, Reuven entered Danny’s life when Danny
“was ready to rebel.” Reb Saunders argues that God sent Reuven to
Danny to help him.
At the beginning of the novel, Danny is tense and unsure
about how to deal with his inner desire to rebel against his upbringing.
He has difficulty speaking openly, and only after warming up to
Reuven does he reveal the awkwardness of his situation. Furthermore, Danny’s
repressed anger toward his father has made him highly susceptible
to embracing any criticism of Hasidism. In Chapter 8, Danny
reads Graetz’s History of the Jews. The book contains
a harsh denunciation of the Hasidim, but Danny reads it with a surprising
lack of skepticism. Reuven, on the other hand, provides a tempering,
rational perspective, balancing Danny’s anger and frustration with
compassion and contemplation. By the end of the novel, Danny has
resolved his conflict with his father; furthermore, like Reuven,
he has developed a broadened, more balanced sense of himself and
the world around him.
Sanford Sternlicht writes that the conflict between Danny
and his father should be seen in terms of Freud’s theory of the
Oedipus complex, which posits that a son holds an unconscious wish
to take his father’s place and be the sole object of his mother’s
affection. Sternlicht argues that Danny expresses his hostility
toward his father as aversion to the idea of taking his father’s
place as leader of the congregation. Sternlicht adds, “Most significantly,
it is Danny’s reading of Freud that provides much of the ammunition
for his successful revolt against and defeat of his father, who,
unconsciously, may be trying to deprive Danny of his individual
manhood by turning him into a clone of himself.” Yet Danny’s rebellion
is against his culture as well as his father. He has a repressed
need to rebel against the traditional, constrictive role of a tzaddik—and
the type of life that Danny fears his father wants him to lead.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Chosen!