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What is the conflict in "The Son From America"?

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mhenrich99 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 10, 2013 at 1:26 AM via web

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What is the conflict in "The Son From America"?

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tmcquade | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted September 10, 2013 at 3:23 AM (Answer #1)

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The central conflict in "The Son from America" concerns the cultural differences and misunderstandings that have arisen between Samuel, a Jewish man who moved to America 40 years ago, and his parents, who still live in the same small village of Lenshin in Poland from which he emigrated.

When Samuel returns to the village after 40 years, his parents initially don't recognize him, believing him a "nobleman" because of his height, his mode of travel, and the clothes he is wearing. They did not expect him, for they did not receive the "cable" he says he sent.  While they had received letters and photographs from him through the years, they found the letters largely "illegible" due to the Yiddish being mixed with other languages, and with their poor eyesight, they could barely make out the photographs.  The Gentile names of his children "were so strange that Berl and Berlcha could never remember them."

More differences become apparent when Samuel suggests that he help his mother prepare the meal, to which she responds "What are you saying? God forbid."  Some of the neighbors later question whether the Jews move to America remain Jews, but Samuel insists he is "not a Gentile."  The family enjoys their prayers and meals together, but Berl and Berlcha understand little of what Samuel says because "his Yiddish was different and contained foreign words."

The conflict reaches its peak, though, when Samuel asks his parents what they have done with the money he has sent them through the years.  They show him how they have kept it hidden away in an old boot.  Samuel is aghast - why hadn't they spent it?  Why hadn't they traveled?  Why hadn't they put it in a bank?  Why didn't they use it to build a bigger synagogue or a home for old people?  His parents reply, however, that they have all they need - that no one in Lentshin steals, that the synagogue is big enough, and that no one sleeps in the street.

Finally, after again visiting the synagogue and further meditating on the prayers and words of his parents, Samuel understands.  He says, "Mother, you don't need to pray for wealth.... You are wealthy already." 

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