All of the novel’s themes, which develop as the novel progresses, are introduced in this first chapter. The first of these themes involves complementary and contrasting pairs of characters and ideas. The Chosen is constructed around a seemingly endless series of these pairs, the most obvious of which is Reuven and Danny. While the two boys’ individual situations contrast with one another, the boys also parallel each other in many ways. Each is the star of his softball team, and each makes an intelligent adjustment within the game—Reuven to catch Danny’s line drive, Danny to hit Reuven’s curveball—that proves crucial to the game’s outcome. The most obvious trait shared by Reuven and Danny is their Judaism. Both boys are clearly devoted to their religion, and they wear clothing that marks them as observant Jews in the eyes of mainstream American society.
However, Danny, who is Hasidic, is part of a very different sect of Judaism than Reuven, who is Orthodox. Danny’s earlocks and beard differentiate him from Reuven, who is clean-shaven. As the game progresses, Reuven and Danny come into conflict about their differing beliefs, to the point where the game itself becomes a kind of holy war. The warlike game parallels World War II, during which the novel is set. This parallel introduces the boys’ relationship to the larger world around them, another important connection in the book. Mr. Galanter’s constant use of military metaphors makes this relationship between the game and the war explicit, as does the boys’ own perception that the game has become a battle of epic proportions.
At the same time, many facets of the game highlight its difference and separation from mainstream American life. It is a softball game, not a baseball game, played on blacktop, not on grass. Overall, the image of skullcapped youths playing baseball is unusual and strange. Throughout the book, the characters struggle to figure out how to reconcile their Jewish faith and tradition with modern American society. In general, the novel isolates its characters, so that all the characters, though they may come into conflict with one another, seem isolated as a group from mainstream American life.
The characters’ isolation relates to the idea that Jews are “the chosen people,” a community set apart from the rest of the world. Despite Danny and Reuven’s religious differences, each must deal with the fact that, by virtue of his birth, he belongs to the Jewish tradition. As Jews, both Reuven and Danny must deal with -religious commitments and responsibilities that most children their age do not have to encounter. The image of the all-Jewish softball game, foreign to most American readers, highlights the fact that both boys share a culture that is struggling to find its place in America.
Finally, this chapter introduces the motifs of vision and suffering. Acts of seeing, watching, perceiving, and reading are important in novel. When Reuven is hit in the eye with a ball, his vision and his perception of the world are placed in serious jeopardy. Significantly, Danny’s relationship with Reuven begins as a result of pain that Danny inflicts upon Reuven. Suffering is a general motif in Jewish tradition and literature, and its full significance within The Chosen becomes more apparent as the novel progresses.