I 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.