Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is the story of an ambitious Jewish boy growing up in a poor neighborhood in Montreal. It is both a portrait of a young man who is desperately determined to be successful and of the various communities he has to deal with in his quest: working-class Jewish, Jewish establishment, French Canadian, and Anglo-Saxon. The novel opens in 1947, while Duddy is still in high school. He creates havoc throughout his neighborhood, tormenting various people who have offended or insulted him.
A series of vignettes introduces Duddy’s family and neighborhood. Although Duddy loves his family, he often feels inferior to his brother, Lennie, who is struggling through medical school. His father, Max, frequently ignores Duddy’s feelings in order to focus on Lennie, the successful sibling. Max’s brother, Benjy, feels the same. While he sends Lennie through medical school, he shows disdain for Duddy. The one member of the family who feels real affection for Duddy is his grandfather, Simcha. He is the one who persuades Duddy that a man must have land in order to be successful.
The summer after Duddy is graduated from high school, he works as a waiter in a resort in the Laurentian mountains. The rest of the staff are college students who either mock or ignore him. One of them, Irwin Shubert, the son of a prominent attorney, continually harasses Duddy. At the summer’s end, he sets Duddy up to bankroll a rigged...
(The entire section is 882 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Duddy Kravitz is a motherless, prankish teenager in a high school in which most of the students come from Montreal’s St. Urbain Jewish ghetto. Duddy is the leader of a school gang, the Warriors, who bully other children, especially the students at the neighboring yeshiva, a Jewish religious school. He also is the instigator of a campaign of telephone harassment of the school’s goy, or non-Jewish, instructors, especially John MacPherson, an ineffectual teacher and an alcoholic who despises the boy. Duddy causes the death of Macpherson’s disabled wife when she leaves her bed to answer one of Duddy’s harassing phone calls. Duddy is perpetually haunted by guilt and remorse.
Duddy’s stern but loving grandfather Simcha counsels him, saying that “a man without land is nobody.” This maxim becomes the driving force in Duddy’s ambition to become a success through the acquisition of money. He soon begins engaging in dubious commercial schemes.
A particularly negative influence on Duddy’s moral development is his weak father, Max, who moonlights as a pimp and who idolizes a local gangster called Jerry (the Boy Wonder) Dingleman. Duddy is also demoralized by the ridicule heaped on him by his father and his uncle Benjy, who focus their attention on the eldest Kravitz son, Lennie, a promising medical student who is sure to raise the family’s fortunes.
Pretensions and crassness define Duddy’s social environment. His St....
(The entire section is 1155 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
David “Duddy” Kravitz, the title character of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, grows up in the Jewish ghetto of Montreal with his widowed father, Max, a taxi driver and part-time pimp, and his older brother, Lennie, a medical student. Duddy worships his grandfather, Simcha, a shoemaker, who believes that a man is nothing without land. Duddy, fifteen when the novel opens in 1947, is an unsophisticated, loudmouthed, obnoxious liar. A harassing telephone call to one of his teachers contributes to the death of the man’s invalid wife. Duddy’s favorite topic is sex. His friend Jake Hersh tells him, “Nothing’s good for you unless you can make it dirty.” Adults consider him “mean, a crafty boy” and hope his family will not suffer too badly from his antics. Duddy longs to emulate Jerry Dingleman, a gangster who grew up with Max.
After high school, Duddy works at a Jewish summer resort, where he is the only waiter who is not a college student. The other waiters are appalled by his crudeness, and one, Irwin Shubert, plots to destroy Duddy by winning all of his money in a crooked roulette game. Irwin justifies his actions by claiming, “It’s the cretinous little money-grubbers like Kravitz that cause anti-Semitism.” Irwin is forced to give Duddy back his money, and the guests feel sorry for him and give him even more. Throughout The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, the protagonist profits from bad experiences.
(The entire section is 864 words.)
Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
The structure of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz follows the familiar pattern of the quest. The goal of the quest is defined for the protagonist, Duddy Kravitz, very early in the novel. Duddy must choose whether he wishes to follow the example of the Boy Wonder, Jerry Dingleman, and parlay a few streetcar transfers into a gangster’s fortune or become a success in the manner insisted upon by his grandfather, who maintains that “a man without land is nobody.” Duddy chooses the curious mixture of his grandfather’s elevated goal and more than a few of Dingleman’s dubious methods. The object of the quest becomes nothing less than a beautiful pastoral lake in the Laurentians that Duddy plans to turn into a summer resort. The novel’s major focus is on the obstacles that Duddy must overcome in order to gain the land he needs to become a “man” and what happens to Duddy’s character in the fulfillment of that quest.
The first section of the novel deals not with the quest for land but with Duddy’s conflict with his high-school teacher, Mr. MacPherson. This conflict points out the mixed nature of Duddy Kravitz; for example, he demonstrates his family feeling when he reacts fiercely to MacPherson’s casual insult to his father. He also shows his ruthlessness as he badgers MacPherson with telephone calls, and he makes MacPherson violate his idealistic rule against corporal punishment. MacPherson’s idealism is no match for Duddy’s...
(The entire section is 756 words.)