In Chapter 12, Reuven’s experience of living with the Malter family deepens his and our perception of Reb Saunders as a character. He relates that Reb Saunders randomly bursts into tears and walks as though there is “some kind of enormous burden on his shoulders.” These mysterious moments suggest that Reb Saunders isn’t as certain of his beliefs and actions as he appears to be.
Both Reuven and Danny share the burden of being Jews, of being part of the “chosen people” by virtue of their birth. In Danny’s conversation with Reuven about feeling “trapped,” Danny discusses how he also feels the burden of being chosen to succeed his father. He asks Reuven if he knows what it is like to feel trapped, and Reuven replies, somewhat hesitantly, that he does not. That Danny feels such a greater burden than Reuven suggests that the novel is more about conflict between fathers and sons than about conflict with religion and tradition. Such a perspective, however, is too simple, because Danny’s problems with his father stem largely from issues of religion and tradition.