From the Dissertation of Katherine Woodma
University of Alberta, Canada
A rabbi, a philosopher, and an observant Jew, Chaim Potok has begun a systematic exploration and a sequence of interwoven novels dealing with Jewish-American cultural confrontation. In his creativity Potok has been led to re-vision conventional assumptions about what Judaism is and its place in American life: instead of concentrating on the Jew as traveler to America, or European immigrant, Potok examines his Jewish characters as religious questers, skeptics, visionaries, and mentors. For Potok the process of story telling re-visions Judaism as a way of being and believing. Potok carefully explores the seemingly disparate Orthodox, Hasidic, and more liberal expressions of Jewish tradition, as well as "Jewish theology, liturgy, history and scholarship," and this task represents something new in American literature (S. Lillian Kremer, "Chaim Potok" 232).
Potok addresses the question of the suffering of good people throughout his work and differs from most Modernist writers in his conclusion that humanity inhabits a benign universe with a benevolent ruler, and that there are ancient ways to understand this theological truth. Potok invariably echoes Jeremiah, who calls for a return to "ancient paths" (Jeremiah 6:16), and reintroduces to the modern reader the surprisingly relevant ancient texts, including Kabbakah, Talmud, and Torah. The premise of Potok's investigation of cultural confrontation between Jewishness and secular life is predicated upon the essential meaningfulness to the universe: Potok's writing is finally affirmative. This study examines all of Potok's eight novels to retrieve the body of sacred and secular texts--from the Zohar to Picasso's Guernica--that are essential to a "fit reading" of Potok's oeuvre. Potok examines, for instance, the role of painting, the importance of women believers, and the inter-section between Jewish and Korean, Japanese, Christian, and secular systems of belief. The result is a genre of the novel emphasizing Jewish texts and universal problems.
The Pennsylvania State University; 0176
DAI, Vol. 56-05A, Page 1777, 288 Pages
In the following study, I analyze a wide array of Jewish-American fiction on Israel to explore the ever evolving relationship between the Israeli and American Jew and, more broadly, to gauge the impact of the Jewish state in forging the ethos of the American Jewish community. The Jewish-American relationship with Israel has proven both dynamic and tumultuous ever since the beginning of the modern Zionist movement in 1897. The complex and often veiled terms of this relationship manifest themselves prevalently as Jewish-American writers choose to "imagine" Israel in their work. I devote individual chapters to eight Jewish-American writers who have engaged Israel substantially in one or more of their works: Meyer Levin, Leon Uris, Saul Bello, Hugh Nissenson, Chaim Potok, Philip Roth, Anne Roiphe, and Tova Reich. In order to chart the evolution of the Jewish-American relationship with Israel from pre-statehood until the present, I considered works spanning from 1928 to 1993 and examine them in their historical and political context. I have endeavored to offer a fairly representative analysis of Jewish-American literature on Israel by selecting those writers whose works, taken as a whole, encompass the wide range of Middle East concerns Jewish-Americans have expressed during this century. Each of the eight writers I consider sheds light upon three essential relational phases thus far between American Jews and Israel: the pre-Zionist, Zionist, and post-Zionist phases. I take care to illustrate how the writers, through their work, either affirm or resist the prevailing zeitgeist on their day. All told, the eight writers address the central issues which have linked and divided the two Jewish communities--the role of Israel as both safe haven and spiritual core for Jews everywhere pitted against its rampant secularism, militarism, and entrenched sexism. The writers, of course, depict contrasting images of the Middle East. But despite the multiform nature of the Jewish-American imagination, the very persistence of Israel in occupying that imagination reveals, above all, how prominent a role Israel played and continues to play in shaping the Jewish-American identity. (FirstSearch)
Stephen F. Austin State University: 6340
MAI, Vol. 30-04, Page 1029, 95 pages
Most modern novelists and critics have described the identity crisis that seems to plague Twentieth-century man. Although almost all modern writers have addressed the disintegration of the human ego and have portrayed characters who exemplify this problem, few writers have isolated the causes of fragmentation, and even fewer have offered adequate solutions to help man achieve a "unity of being." However, in The Chosen, The Promise, In the Beginning, and My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok portrays characters who attain a unit of existence by freely choosing intellectually satisfying careers. Although torn by the desire to remain in their orthodox Jewish cultures while pursuing secular interests, Potok's characters transcend the despair of modern society through a complete, almost artistic devotion to their work. This study shows that Potok's novels provide a way for man to reconcile who he is with what he does and, thus, to achieve fulfillment. (FirstSearch)
Stephen F. Austin State University; 6340
MAI, Vol. 29-01, Page 27, 88 Pages
Father and son relationships are an integral part of four of Chaim Potok's novels. In The Chosen, The Promise, My Name is Asher Lev, and In the Beginning, Potok offers to his readers a series of complex father and son relationships. The fathers are firmly entrenched in the ideas of their Jewish world--they are Jews first and fathers second. The sons are inquisitive about the world outside of their yeshivas, and they search for answers to the many questions they have which their fathers fail to answer. This influx of ideas that the sons bring into their world, the world of their fathers, causes a confrontation of ideas which results in communication problems between father and son. There is an element of tragedy in this confrontation, because although these sons seem to stray from the path of Jewish tradition, the path of their fathers, they are in fact working for Judaism just as their fathers are; only their methods differ. This study is an analysis of these complex father and son relationships, and it exposes the intricacies of these relationships, and at the same time, the intricacies of Potok's craftsmanship of his stories. (FirstSearch)
The purpose of this study is to examine four adolescent novels exclusively from the viewpoint of literary criticims. Two of the novels, labeled adolescent by the publishers, are "The Pigman" by Paul Zindel and "His Enemy, His Friend" by John Tunis; the other two, not labeled adolescent by the publishers, are "The Chosen" by Chaim Potok, and "A Separate Peace" by John Knowles. The study demonstrates how the critic's work is concerned with the quality of the work of literature, a quality generated by the work itself and unique to it. This study concludes that: (1) The four novels demonstrate some degree of artistic execution. (2) The two novels labeled by the publishers as adolescent do not demonstrate an artistry comparable to the two not labeled adolescent. (3) Of the four novels, the one that seemed written with the adolescent audience in mind is the most superficial. (4) The three novels which use an adolescent narrator in the first person create more immediacy than the one book that uses the impersonal narrator. (5) The four books considered adolescent in this study concern themselves with Havighurst's developmental tasks. Implications are offered for the high school teacher of English. (Author/DB)