Reuven 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 to what his heart leads him."
The most developing character from the novel is Reuven
Malter. One of the ways that he develops in the novel is in
hus understanding of friendship. His friendship with
D\fanny 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 because of the teachings
of his father. 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, 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. 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. 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. 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 harder for Danny to turn
down his tzaddikship. By the end of the book, Reuven Malter
is a very changed character.
Potok is an expert with using allusion and metaphor. Very
subtly throughout the book he uses this for the purposes of
reinforcing his points, foreshadowing, and to make the book
more interesting. A very good example of this is when Potok
shows Reuven sitting on his porch watching a fly trapped in
a spider's web with the arachnid builder approaching. 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), the Hasidic
which expects that he becomes a tzaddik. 

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