Summary: Chapter 2
Mr. Galanter and Reuven arrive at Brooklyn Memorial Hospital. A young doctor examines Reuven, who is feeling increasingly nauseous and dizzy. After the doctor realizes that Reuven was wearing glasses when he was hit, he calls in two more doctors to look at his eye, including Dr. Snydman, a warm and sympathetic eye expert. After examining Reuven, Dr. Snydman sends him upstairs to the eye ward. In the elevator on the way to the ward, Reuven sees flashing lights and swirling colors, and soon he is unconscious.
Reuven awakes to find himself in the hospital’s sunlit eye ward. His bed lies between the beds of two other patients. To his left is a friendly man in his mid-thirties named Tony Savo. Tony, a professional prizefighter, speaks using boxing metaphors, referring to Reuven’s head as “the old punching bag” and to his injury as a “clop.” To Reuven’s right is Billy, a spirited and optimistic blind boy aged ten or eleven. Billy explains that he lost his sight in a car accident, but will soon undergo an operation that will allow him to see again. Reuven tells Tony and Billy to call him Bobby, since his English name is Robert Malter. While they are talking, a nurse named Mrs. Carpenter brings dinner, assuring Reuven that all the food is kosher.
David Malter, Reuven’s father, visits and informs Reuven that Dr. Snydman has operated on his eye. He assures Reuven that everything is all right, but Reuven realizes that his father is not being completely truthful. Finally, Mr. Malter reluctantly admits that the doctor is worried that, in the process of healing, scar tissue may grow over the pupil, blinding Reuven’s left eye. He also tells Reuven that Reb Saunders has been calling him to ask about Reuven’s condition. Reuven grows angry and argues that Danny intentionally hit him. He also tells his father that Danny called him an apikorsim. David Malter is shocked by Reuven’s accusations and remains critical of them.
Mr. Malter informs Reuven that he cannot read at all until his eye has healed. He gives Reuven a portable radio, instructing him to remain aware of news of the War. He also brings Reuven his tefillin and prayer book. Throughout the conversation, David Malter looks sickly. Reuven, upset to see his father looking so tired and unkempt, reminds his father to take care of his own health. David Malter leaves, and Reuven falls asleep thinking about Billy, wondering what it is like to be blind.
Analysis: Chapter 2
Reuven’s traumatic eye injury underscores the importance and fragility of the eyes, an important means of connection to the world around us. In his closing words of Chapter 2, Reuven says he can’t imagine what it would be like to be blind and not notice any difference when opening his eyes, to find “everything … still dark.” Reuven’s comment alludes to the beginning of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep. . . . Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness” (Gen. 1:1–4). The Bible equates darkness with hopelessness, with a world without God. For Reuven, blindness would also be hopeless because he loves to read, and because reading is an important part of both prayer and learning. Reuven fears that without his eyesight, he will be closed off from the world of ideas, the world of his friends and family, and the world of God.
At the same time, the fragility of Reuven’s vision and of the healing process implies that one’s way of seeing the world can be altered. Reuven’s eye injury foreshadows the coming radical change to his opinion of Danny. Just as Reuven’s eye heals and he learns to see again, so too does he eventually learn to see Danny—and the whole world—differently. In this chapter, vision operates on two levels. It is a physical ability that enables learning, prayer, and interaction with others, but it also represents the more abstract act of seeing and judging others. Both these aspects of vision are connected to one another, and both are important to understanding the novel.