Summary and Analysis
Book 3: Chapters 13-15
Danny and Reuven enter Hirsch College. To his dismay, Danny soon learns that the college psychology department is oriented toward experimental psychology to the exclusion of the psychoanalytic work of Freud. The school is, in Jewish practice, Orthodox.
Mr. Malter is busy giving talks on the importance of the Zionist movement (the movement to create a Jewish state). He speaks at a rally at Madison Square Garden for the Zionist cause. The rally is a great success, and the response to the idea of an end to British control of Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish state there is overwhelming.
The rally, including Mr. Malter's participation in it, is reported in the press. Angered by the rally and Mr. Malter's call for a Jewish state, Reb Saunders cannot sanction his son associating with Reuven, the son of a Zionist leader. Accordingly, he forbids Danny to see or speak to Reuven.
In November 1947, the United Nations votes to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state.
The confrontation between David Malter and Reb Saunders about religious ideology spills over into Reuven and Danny's college life. Reuven is friendly with the non-Hasidic students, many of whom he went to high school with, but he doesn't "mix much" with the Hasidic students. Likewise, Danny befriends the Hasidic students but not the non-Hasidic ones. Each group of students confronts the other concerning the question of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Their conflict parallels that between David Malter and Reb Saunders.
Reuven and Danny's heated discussion about the value of experimental psychology and Freud reveals their respective world views. Reuven argues that Freudians aren't willing to test their theories in the real world; therefore, their theories are merely assumptions. Later in Chapter 13, Professor Appleman, Danny's psychology professor, emphasizes to Danny that Freud might have been a genius, but he based his theories only on abnormal human behavior. Danny is unable to accept Reuven's and Appleman's arguments: Human behavior does not concern him; psychological behavior does. Here, Danny's opinion is ironic given the recent information about the great number of Jews killed in the German concentration camps. Finally, however, after speaking to Appleman about his concerns, Danny begins to accept the validity of experimental psychology. This acceptance furthers his development, or maturity, as a character.
We learn much about David Malter in Chapter 13, especially his motivation for driving himself so hard to make a difference in the world. Speaking to Reuven, who has matured greatly in a short period, Mr. Malter says, "A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning not automatically given in life." Using a metaphor of an eye that blinks, he explains that the blink is nothing; it is only a physical function. However, the eye itself is important, for the eye symbolizes humanity in that it has a deeper meaning than simply something that blinks. Furthering this analogy, Mr. Malter contends that a human life in and of itself is inconsequential; however, what a human being does can be very important if that human being makes a difference in the world. Note that Mr. Malter relies on eyesight in his metaphor of an eye being like a human being. We are reminded of his fear for Reuven's eyesight after Reuven gets hit by a ball earlier in the novel, and also of his extreme sadness when he first sees Billy, Reuven's roommate in the hospital, and realizes that Billy cannot see.
Danny broods more and more, as if he were contemplating a weighty issue in his life (which we know is the question of whether to renounce his inherited religious position). He refrains from joining the pro-Jewish homeland students, but he also removes himself from any discussion among the Hasidic students, who are against a Jewish homeland. Reuven relates Danny's position: "He was trapped by his beard and earlocks, he said, and there was nothing he could do. But one day . . . " Here, the phrase "But one day," followed as it is by an ellipsis, foreshadows Danny's momentous decision at the end of the novel to decline the inherited rabbinical leadership.
Worse, Reb Saunders forbids Danny to have any contact with Reuven because of Reuven's father's public statements concerning the Palestinian Jewish homeland. In effect, then, Reb Saunders silences Danny completely. Danny cannot speak to his father, and now he cannot speak to his friend.
At the end of Chapter 13, Mr. Malter responds to Reuven's outcry about Reb Saunders — "He's such a — a fanatic!" — by pointing out that were there not such men as Reb Saunders, Jews would no longer exist, for they would have been erased as a people. Here, Mr. Malter exhibits such an even-tempered and understanding philosophy of life that we marvel at him as a character.
Chapter 14 is noteworthy for Reuven's extended explanation of a Talmudic passage in class. His four-day answer comes on the heels of silence, both between him and Danny and in class. One of his strongest statements concerning silence occurs early in the chapter: "Silence was ugly, it was black, it leered, it was cancerous, it was death." Responding to this characterization of silence and the enforced silence between him and his best friend, Reuven launches into his one-sided discussion about the Talmudic passage. However, when Rav Gershenson, the teacher, asks Reuven what he, and not the historical commentators, thinks is the meaning of the passage, Reuven is speechless, for he cannot explain its meaning. Not even Rav Gershenson can explain. Here, then, Reuven is faced with something that cannot be given meaning, which reminds us of his father's previous comment that a person gains fulfillment by creating meaning out of life experiences. Reuven learns that some questions have no answers. No doubt Danny, too, who is in Reuven's Talmudic class, learns the same lesson.
At the end of Chapter 15, Reuven and Danny reconcile. Because of the political and military turmoil in Israel, Reb Saunders must have rescinded his order that Danny not interact with Reuven, or perhaps Danny personally decided to disobey his father's decree of silence concerning Reuven. Whichever the reason, the two boys — men now — again speak to one another. Their silence and then reunion demonstrate that world events do make a difference in Reb Saunders' life, although perhaps Reb Saunders would not admit that the secular world impacts his life as much as it does.
induction in logic, arriving at a general conclusion by looking at particular instances.
refutation proving that something is wrong through argument and evidence.
intersubjective testing testing to get the same results from two or more subjects.
emendation a change (usually of text) to correct or improve.
empiricist a person who believes that knowledge is gained only through experience.
Neturei Karta (Net u rye Car tuh) an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group in Jerusalem.
British Foreign Minister Bevin Ernest Bevin (1881-1951), who served as England's foreign secretary from 1945 to 1951.
rostrum a podium used by speakers or lecturers.
shiur (shee ur) a Jewish classroom lesson.
Haganah (Hah gah nah) a military organization of Israel.