Summary: Chapter 4
David Malter visits Reuven again and tells him Dr. Snydman will examine his eye on Friday morning. Afterward, Reuven probably will be able to come home. Reuven tells his father about Danny’s last visit and comments that the way Danny looks does not match the way he speaks. Danny dresses like a Hasid, he says, but talks about Ivanhoe and Freud. Reuven’s father encourages him to befriend Danny, citing a Talmudic maxim that stresses the importance of choosing a friend for oneself. He also says, “A Greek philosopher said that two people who are true friends are like two bodies with one soul.” After Mr. Malter leaves, Mr. Savo warns Reuven to beware of fanatics like Danny. Reuven wakes up in the middle of the night and is concerned to see a curtain around Mr. Savo’s bed. The curtain is still up the next morning, and Reuven hears bustling activity and soft moaning from Mr. Savo’s bed. In the early evening, Danny comes to visit for a third time. Reuven is excited by Danny’s visit but worried about Mr. Savo, so he suggests they go into the hall to talk.
Reuven and Danny have a long conversation about their intellectual interests and their aspirations for the future. They discover that they were both born in the same place, Brooklyn Memorial Hospital, where Reuven is currently staying. Danny elaborates on his father’s belief in silence, saying that his father never speaks to him except when they are studying Torah and Talmud. Danny also confesses that even though his father tells him man’s mission in life is to obey God, sometimes he is not sure what God wants. Danny knows that he is expected to take his father’s place as head of the Hasidic dynasty, but he is not sure he wants to do so.
Reuven is surprised by Danny’s confession and even more shocked when Danny reveals that he reads seven or eight non-religious books a week, including writings by authors like the evolutionists Darwin and T. H. Huxley, of whom Reb Saunders would not approve. Danny tells Reuven that a nice man in the library recommends books for him to read. Reuven tells Danny he doesn’t know what to make of him, saying, “You look like a Hasid, but you don’t sound like one.”
After a silence, Reuven tells Danny about his love for mathematics. Danny knows little about math, and he is excited that Reuven knows so much about a subject he knows nothing about. In the middle of their conversation, Reuven’s father comes to visit, and both boys are astonished to learn that Mr. Malter is the man who has been recommending books to Danny in the library. Reuven is stunned and a little hurt that his father said nothing to him about this activity, but David Malter explains that he was only trying to respect Danny’s privacy. After recovering from his initial shock, Danny thanks Mr. Malter for all his reading recommendations and promises to visit Reuven on Saturday afternoon, after he is home from the hospital.
When Reuven wakes up on Friday morning, the curtain is no longer drawn around Mr. Savo’s bed, but Billy’s bed is now empty. Mr. Savo tells Reuven that Billy is undergoing the operation to restore his sight. Reuven prays for Billy and then nervously goes to have his examination with Dr. Snydman. The doctor examines Reuven and tells him that he thinks the scar tissue will heal correctly. Reuven is very excited to return home, and he says goodbye to Mr. Savo. Before he leaves, he learns that Mr. Savo’s bad eye had to be removed.
Analysis: Chapter 4
Like Chapter 3, Chapter 4 contains many scenes that do not directly relate to the novel’s main story about the relationship between Reuven and Danny. Potok details Reuven’s reaction to Mr. Savo’s surgery, and he emphasizes Billy Merrit’s surgery. The chapter ends with the news that Mr. Savo has to have his eye removed, a revelation that reminds Reuven and us of the presence of suffering, especially undeserved or needless suffering. We pity Mr. Savo and Billy because their injuries are horrible and arose through no fault of their own. Potok intersperses examples of needless, random suffering throughout the novel to reinforce suffering as a fundamental, ever-present aspect of human existence.
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