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How does Potok
weave together personal and political events in his novel? How do
politics and world events contribute to the novel’s plot and character development?
The historical setting of The Chosen includes
the final years of World War II and the creation of the state of
Israel in 1948. These political
developments drive the novel’s plot. Danny and Reuven’s friendship,
the novel’s central subject, is predicated on major world historical
events. In the first chapter, Reuven comments that he never would
have met Danny if not for America’s entry into World War II. Reuven
explains that a growing patriotic awareness of the importance of
athletics to the war effort led Danny and Reuven’s community to
begin its softball league.
One of the major conflicts in the novel is Reb Saunders’s
and David Malter’s difference of opinion about the proper way to respond
to the Holocaust. In response to the murder of six million Jews,
Reb Saunders says it is God’s will and that man can only wait for
God to bring the Messiah. In contrast, David Malter believes that
American Jews must give the Holocaust meaning by preserving the
Jewish people and creating a homeland in Palestine. This fundamental
difference of opinion between the two men ultimately drives Reb
Saunders to end the friendship between Danny and Reuven.
Political developments are not just a backdrop to the
novel; they motivate the novel’s character and plot developments.
Potok implies that in the modern world, individual lives are inseparable from
larger historical developments. He also asserts that it is important
for people to actively engage the outside world.
Potok use silence as a narrative technique?
The epigraph to Book Two of The Chosen is
a quotation from the Zohar that reads “Silence is good everywhere,
except in connection with Torah.” The Zohar is the central text
of Kabbalistic knowledge (see the Glossary for an explanation),
by which Reb Saunders raises his son Danny. In accordance with the
teaching of the Zohar, Reb Saunders never speaks to Danny except
when they are discussing the Torah. At the end of the novel, Reb
Saunders explains that the purpose of this silence is to teach his
son to have compassion in his soul.
However, silence is not only a defining aspect of the
way in which Reb Saunders raises his son, but also an important
aspect of Potok’s writing style. Potok uses spare language. Characters
often sit quietly, immersed in their own thoughts. Long pauses in
conversation are found throughout the novel, even when the topic
of conversation is silence itself. In the last scene of the novel,
when Reuven’s father asks Danny if he will raise his own son in
silence, Potok writes, “Danny said nothing for a long time.”
Often, a character says nothing in response to a statement
about which he obviously has strong feelings. When Reuven learns
that Danny has been teaching himself German, he is shocked. Even
so, when Danny asks what is wrong, Reuven does not reply. Potok leaves
gaps in his story and describes the characters’ silences because he
intends for us to have the same experience as his characters. As readers,
we must fill in the gaps, just as Danny must listen to his father’s
silences and fill in the gaps. We must search within ourselves and
within our understanding of human behavior to recognize what such
Potok also uses silence in the novel’s thematic development.
He refuses to reveal the meaning of Reb Saunders’s silence, creating
a mysterious silence about silence that builds as the novel progresses. Like
Reb Saunders’s silence, Potok’s silence forces us to examine more
carefully the details Reuven relates—it leaves us with a deeper, more
personal sense of Reuven and Danny’s world.
the meaning of the novel’s title. Who or what is chosen in the book?
Which is more desirable: to be chosen or to make a choice?
The novel’s title refers to the idea that
the Jews are God’s chosen people and therefore hold special privileges
and responsibilities. Both Danny and Reuven fulfill their duty by
studying Jewish liturgy, and they derive great pleasure from Jewish
traditions. At the same time, both protagonists feel the burden
of being Jewish—the burden of being a member of a persecuted minority.
Reuven is saddened by the loss of lives during the Holocaust, and
Danny struggles with the Hasidic tradition he was born into. In
its reference to Judaism, the novel’s title refers to something
the characters have no control over. This lack of control has both
positive and negative effects on the characters.
Danny struggles to choose his life path rather than have
it chosen for him. Danny is not only born into a religion; he is
born into a very demanding culture with a strict set of customs
and expectations. To Danny, being chosen is especially cumbersome,
because his lifestyle and education are limited by the rules of
his culture. As a Hasid, he cannot choose his wife, and as a tzaddik,
he cannot choose his profession. Yet Danny nevertheless defies his
father’s expectations and chooses another path, deciding to become
At the end of the novel, we learn that this path was in
fact something Reb Saunders chose for Danny, when he made the decision
to raise Danny in silence. At the same time, Reb Saunders’s method
of parenting was chosen for him—he raised Danny the only way he knew.
At the novel’s conclusion, we see that creativity, spirituality, and
inspiration can emerge out of a situation in which one has no choice.
Potok’s message is ambiguous. He shows us that being chosen has
both positive and negative consequences; it has both unpleasant
obligations and rewarding privileges.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Chosen!