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The Chosen: Themes & Analysis

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

The Chosen by Chaim Potok thrusts the reader into the lives of two boys who are trying to maintain a friendship in spite of differing views on Judaism. We'll explore the themes of father-son relationships, the conflict between the religious and secular way of life, and the pursuit of the American dream.

Themes in 'The Chosen'

In The Chosen by Chaim Potok, Danny Saunders and Reuven Malter struggle to maintain their friendship, a difficult prospect considering they are being raised in vastly different Jewish households. The relationships these boys have with their fathers also play a huge role in how each views his culture and the world around him. The conflicts between living a religious life and a secular life also rear their ugly head, and the pursuit of the American dream is the icing on top of the cake when it comes to themes in this thought-provoking novel.

Chaim Potok
Chaim Potok

Traditions

Reuven comes from a family who views Judaism through the reform lens, while Danny's family is very strict, observant Hasidic. We also see a conflict in how the boys see their lives developing as they grow into men. Danny struggles with decisions about studying psychology rather than following in his father's footsteps as a leader of the temple.

Often people who live a strict religious life are in conflict with the world. Their beliefs butt heads with the modern advances, with looser morals, with more open minded thinking seen in the world, especially with young people.

Father Son Relationships

At its heart, this book is as much about the relationships these boys have with their fathers as it is about the boys' relationship with each other. On the one hand we are witness to a warm relationship between Reuven and his father. Reuven has the luxury of feeling as though he can discuss anything with his father, and he knows that his father will listen and lend support if needed. Reuven's father is open to his son and is aware of his faults; he has no difficulty reprimanding him when it is needed. It is a balanced father-son relationship.

The same cannot be said for the relationship between Danny and his father. They are unable to communicate. The only time Danny's father speaks to him is when they are studying the Talmud, the Jewish holy book. This failure in the relationship causes Danny pain. He has to hold his feelings and thoughts inside. He cannot share his concerns about his life direction and his desire to study psychology. The end result is that Danny chooses to abandon his religion in favor of life as a psychologist.

Both fathers are central to the importance of the novel. Reuven's father is approachable and understands that Reuven needs to find his own way in the world. While he believes Reuven would make an excellent math professor, he understands and supports his decision to become a Rabbi. Danny's father is in many ways the opposite of Reuven's. He is close-minded, and this results in pain for his son.

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