The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz gives a rich portrayal of a wide range of characters who populated Montreal during the period immediately after World War II. Although it concentrates on the working-class Jewish community, Richler’s work is filled with many insights into other groups as well. The novel’s episodic structure and abundance of characters create an amazingly vivid portrait of a time and place. Even his minor characters stand out, presenting vivid social and satiric commentary. This rich mix of detail mirrors the complexity of real life.
Richler very dispassionately presents both the positive and negative aspects of his characters. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in Richler’s development of his protagonist. The first section of the novel presents Duddy as a rather unpleasant troublemaker. Gradually, however, he gathers the reader’s sympathy when his search for his father’s approval meets with dismissal and indifference. His humiliation at the hands of the upper-class waiters at the resort increases the reader’s understanding. However, this scene is followed immediately by his shabby rejection of Yvette. Ironically, throughout the novel, Duddy works very hard to win the love of his family, never completely succeeding. In these relationships, he is strong and loving. However, he ignores and then brutally betrays the two people who do love him, Virgil and Yvette, in much the same dismissive manner as he is treated by...
(The entire section is 462 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
David “Duddy” Kravitz
David “Duddy” Kravitz, a Montreal-born Jewish teenager and second-generation Canadian. Motherless and growing up in the shadow of his favored elder brother, Lennie, the dark, nervous Duddy feels closest to hiszeyda (grandfather), Simcha Kravitz. Early in Duddy’s life, Simcha admonishes him, “A man without land is nobody. Remember that, Duddel.” Duddy works for material success and admiration by buying land in the growing resort area of the Laurentian mountains north of Montreal. His laudable goal is to provide a farm for his zeyda and various philanthropic benefits for the Jewish community. Duddy’s more questionable values, derived from his bleak immediate environment and developed in part as a defense against the anti-Semitism he encounters in the larger French-and English-Canadian society, lead him to pursue his goals with admirable perseverance, self-sacrifice, and zeal but also with deeply ingrained ruthlessness. By the age of nineteen, having weathered bankruptcy and a nervous breakdown, he has struggled, ingratiated, and cheated his way into being the sole owner of about 440 arpents (about 375 acres) of prime Laurentian land, but at the cost of the love and respect of those few who have tried to give him the admiration and emotional security he craves. Instead, he has allied himself by choice and by deed with the moral bankrupts around him.
Simcha Kravitz, Duddy’s grandfather, an immigrant Polish Jew and a shoemaker. A pious and scrupulously honest though unbending man, Simcha is trusted and honored in the community. Hurt by his elder son, Benjy, and contemptuous of his younger son, Max, Simcha tries to nurture in Duddy the principles he himself reveres. Advising his grandson that a man without land—by which he means a place where he belongs—is nobody, he inadvertently plants in Duddy the insatiable desire to acquire property, whatever the moral costs.
Max Kravitz, the middle-aged father of Lennie and...
(The entire section is 849 words.)
The Characters (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Duddy Kravitz is clearly the most important character in the novel; there is hardly a scene in the book in which he does not appear. Yet he is a series of contradictions. He is vindictive and loving, money-grubbing and generous, obsessed and distracted. He attempts to strike a balance between these contradictions, but the choices he makes seem to suggest, finally, that he values success more than human feelings. He is seen chopping up the antiques which his Uncle Benjy has left him and blatantly robbing Virgil of his savings in order to achieve his dream. His successful quest has a cost: the subordination of the decent and intelligent side of Duddy to the predatory part of his character.
Uncle Benjy is a fascinating minor character in the novel. At first, he is less tolerant than the others of Duddy’s pursuit of money. He, as a Socialist and as a gentleman, is offended by the crass methods Duddy uses. Yet he does change when he sees other elements in Duddy’s character, and although he will not finance any of Duddy’s schemes he does leave his elegant mansion to Duddy in the hope that it will influence and temper his character. This hope is in vain.
Duddy’s father, Max, is more of a type character than is Benjy. He spends most of his time spinning tales about the Boy Wonder. As a result, he never seems to have any time for Duddy. Indeed, he hardly acknowledges Duddy’s existence, since doing so would intrude upon his private mythology. At the end of the book, he is mythologizing Duddy into the new Boy Wonder.