Malter's Development In The Chosen


By Chaim Potok
One of the most emotional scenes from Chaim Potok's The
Chosen is when Reuven goes with Danny Saunders to talk to
his father. Danny has a great mind and wants to use it to
study psychology, not become a Hasidic tzaddik. The two go
into Reb Saunders' study to explain to him what is going to
happen, and before Danny can bring it up, his father does.
Reb Saunders explains to the two friends that he already
knows that Reuven is going to go for his smicha and Danny,
who is in line to become the next tzaddik of his people,
will not. This relates to the motif of "Individuality" and
the theme of "Danny's choice of going with the family
dynasty or do what his heart leads him."
The character that shows the most growth is Reuven Malter.
One of the ways that he develops in the novel is in his
understanding of friendship. His friendship with Danny
Saunders is encouraged by his father, but he is wary of it
at first because Danny is a Hasid, and regards regular
Orthodox Jews as apikorsim. Reuven goes from not being able
to have a civil conversation with Danny to becoming his
best friend with whom he spends all of his free time,
studies Talmud and goes to college. Reuven truly grows
because he learns, as his father says, what it is to be a
friend. Another way that Reuven grows is that he learns to
appreciate different people and their ideas. He starts out
hating Hasidim because it's the "pious" thing to do, even
though his father (who I see as the Atticus Finch of this
novel) keeps telling him that it's okay to disagree with
ideas, but hating a person because of them is intolerable.
Through his friendship with Danny, studies with Reb
Saunders, a brief crush on Danny's sister (who was never
given a name), and time spent in the Hasidic community, he
learns that Hasids are people too with their own ideas and
beliefs that are as valuable as his own. He learns why they
think, act, speak, and dress the way that they do and comes
to grips with the fact that he doesn't have a monopoly on
virtue. A third way in which Reuven grows, though the book
doesn't really talk about it a great deal, is in his
appreciation of life, or cha'im in Hebrew. Even though he
almost loses his vision, his father nearly works himself to
death, six million Jews are butchered in Europe, and
Danny's brother's poor health threatens Danny's choice to
not become a tzaddik, Reuven gains a deeper understanding
of the meaning of life. 
When his eye is out of order he can't read, and indeed does
remark that it's very difficult to live without reading,
especially with a voracious appetite for learning such as
his. His father almost dies twice and he talks about how
difficult it is to live all alone in silence (which is a
metaphor alluding to Danny's everyday life) for the month
while his father is in the hospital. He sees Reb Saunders
and his father feeling the suffering of the six million
dead, Saunders by crying and being silent, David Malter by
working for the creation of a Jewish state and being a
leader in the movement, in addition to teaching at a
yeshiva and adult education classes. And of course Danny is
very worried by his brother's illness (hemophillia?)
because if he dies it will be even harded for Danny to turn
down his tzaddikship. By the end of the book, Reuven Malter
is a very changed character.
Potok is an expert in the way he uses allusion and metaphor
to reinforce his points. He intertwines them very subtly
and they can easily be overlooked by the reader. One
example of this is when I missed the significance of
chapter nine. It took two readings before I realized what
the author was implying when he shows Reuven sitting on his
porch, watching a fly trapped in a spider's web. He blows
on the fly, first softly, and then more harshly, and the
fly is free and safe from the danger of the spider. This is
a metaphor to Danny being trapped in the "filmy, almost
invisible strands of the web" (165) of the Hasidic clan who
expect him to become a tzaddik. 

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