Role of the Fathers in Chaim Potok’s The Chosen
Chaim Potok’s The Chosen is the story of a lasting friendship that blossoms between two Jewish boys, Danny Saunders and Reuven Malter, during and after World War II. On a deeper level, much of the plot focuses on the character of their fathers–Reb Saunders and David Malter–whose beliefs and ideals are rooted in two separate worlds. Reb Saunders is a zealous Hasidic rabbi who wants to impart his knowledge of his religion upon Danny and expects his son to follow in his footsteps. David is a professor and single father who comes from a liberal Jewish background. As the friendship between Reuven and Danny grows, both fathers try to reconcile their views with their sons and with their own understanding of the Jewish faith.
Unlike Reb Saunders, who never exchanges a single word to his son except over their discussion of the Talmud, David encourages Reuven to be outward in expressing his feelings and emotions–thus leading to a much closer, stronger, and more intimate relationship between them. Reb Saunders deliberately raises a barrier of silence between himself and his son because he believes that with a brilliant mind such as Danny’s comes a cold "ugliness" that is only shattered "… by suffering one’s own pain, by turning inside oneself, by finding one’s own soul" (Chapter 18, page 278). As a result of Reb Saunders’ treatment, Danny suffers throughout the story, mainly due to his inability to tell his father essential information about his future–like his aspirations of becoming a psychologist–or any other aspects of his life. Even simple conversation proves to be an almost insurmountable endeavor for Danny. For instance, he concedes to Reuven that talking to his father about organizing a ball game was "torture" (Chapter 8, page 160). Another example of the somewhat ominous silence is present during Danny’s and Reb’s trip to Lakewood. For hours, no words are traded, with the exception of a discussion of a Talmudic passage.
On the other hand, Reuven and David mutually support the notion that the lines of communication between them should always be open. Whenever Reuven struggles with a problem or simply a question, regardless the significance, he comes directly to his father for assistance. David listens intently and offers a few suggestions or delivers a thorough answer to his son’s query. For example, when Reuven wonders about Danny, David answers with a lengthy and detailed account. This demonstrates not only the comfort they bear in talking to each other but also the patience they’ve developed that has stemmed from their communication. Despite their lack of communication, Reb Saunders and his son share the same admiration, respect, and trust for each other that are consistent with Reuven’s and David’s relationship.
Although Reb Saunders carries the overwhelming responsibility of being tzaddik and David Malter is often absorbed in his journalistic efforts, both fathers demonstrate...