stood in that room for a long time, watching the sunlight and listening
to the sounds on the street outside. I stood there, tasting the
room and the sunlight and the sounds, and thinking of the long hospital
ward. . . . I wondered if little Mickey had ever seen sunlight come
though the windows of a front room apartment. . . . Somehow everything
had changed. I had spent five days in a hospital and the world around
seemed sharpened now and pulsing with life.
This passage occurs in Chapter 5,
after Reuven has returned home from the hospital. His eye accident
and brush with blindness taught him about the fragility of his senses.
In this passage, Reuven shows he has developed a deep appreciation
for the gift of perception as he describes “watching,” “listening
to,” and “tasting” the world around him.
Not only has Reuven’s accident heightened his physical
awareness of the world around him; it has also heightened his perception of
the world’s suffering and complexity. In the hospital, he encountered
people in painful and cruel situations. Displaying a new sense of
empathy and compassion, Reuven worries about Mickey, the boy who
has been in the hospital his whole life. Reuven’s eyes have been opened
to the injustice and suffering in the world. As a result, Reuven
appreciates the quality of his own circumstances—of his sunny apartment—which
are superior to those of the dingy hospital ward. Throughout the
novel, Potok portrays the development of compassion for the suffering
of others as a crucial element of maturity.
Reuven also first meets Danny when Danny visits him in
the hospital, and Reuven’s conversations with Danny are equally
important to Reuven’s heightened awareness of the world. Danny contributes
to Reuven’s improved sense of perception by defying all of Reuven’s
preconceived assumptions about Hasidic Judaism. Reuven’s focus on
his physical senses in this passage also emphasizes the importance
of looking deeper than a first glance. In order to show how Reuven’s
way of seeing others has changed, Potok stresses the way Reuven’s
apartment, something he has known all his life, seems a new place.
In this passage, Reuven reveals the after-effects of his hospital
experience: his perception, on all levels, has been broadened and
deepened by his accident, by the suffering he witnesses, and by
his interaction with Danny Saunders.