(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Abraham is a pious Jew and a good businessman. General agent for the Huntze mills, he is greatly respected by the community. He always spends the Passover season with his beloved rabbi in a town some distance from Lodz. One year, his wife protests more than usual at being left alone because she expects to be confined soon. She knows the child will be a boy, for she feels stirrings on her right side. Abraham pays no attention to her.

When he returns, he finds two sons. The older by several minutes is Simcha; the younger is Jacob. Simcha is the smaller of the two and shows a meaner spirit. As they grow older, Jacob is the happy leader of neighborhood games, the favorite of all. Dinah, a neighbor girl, has worshipped him for years. Simcha seldom plays with anyone, and he has no stomach for even minor physical pain.

In school, however, Jacob is an amiable dunce, whereas Simcha is the scholar. Before long, Simcha is recognized as a genius. At an early age, he cites the Talmud and disputes with his teacher. When he is ten years old, he is sent to a more learned rabbi, Nissan’s father. His new teacher is more moral and uncompromising, and Simcha’s glib smartness often leads him into disfavor. Moreover, here he has to take second place to Nissan.

Simcha keeps his leadership by running gambling games during class hours, and on holidays he leads his schoolmates into gambling houses. Simcha always wins, even from the professional gamblers. Nissan has no time for gambling, but his sin is even greater: He reads secular books on chemistry, astronomy, and economics. When Simcha betrays him and his father casts him out, Nissan becomes an apprentice weaver.

Because of Simcha’s growing reputation for acuity, a marriage broker is able to arrange an advantageous engagement. At the age of thirteen, Dinah and Simcha are betrothed. Dinah is miserable. She is blonde and educated in languages; Simcha is unprepossessing and educated only in the Talmudic discipline. The marriage, which takes place several years later, is never a happy one, for Dinah never forgets Jacob.

Simcha, with a clever head for figures, keeps the accounts at the mill belonging to his easygoing father-in-law. By convincing the older man to sign promissory notes, Simcha soon becomes a partner. Although the family resents Simcha’s hard dealing, he is grimly intent on making money. By shrewdness and trickery, he becomes sole owner of the mill in a short time. His father-in-law’s mill, however, is only a handloom establishment; Simcha sets his sights higher.

The biggest steam mill in Lodz is owned by a crusty German named Huntze. Simcha’s father is general agent, and the mill has a...

(The entire section is 1106 words.)