Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The novels of Chaim Potok typically concern themselves with conflicts between worldviews, usually as represented by the American Orthodox Jewish tradition and aspects of the secular world. Davita’s Harp is the story of a girl’s search for balance—between practicality and idealism, between the inner self and the outer environment. Davita’s parents are intelligent people who have rejected their respective religions and become passionately dedicated to Communism. Davita describes in detail the Communist Party meetings that the Chandals hold in a succession of tenement apartments, apartments that they are regularly forced to leave by unsympathetic landlords.
Amid the instability of Davita’s physical environment, two objects stay constant: a picture on her parents’ bedroom wall of three white horses, and a door harp hung on the front door of whatever apartment they call home. Davita looks at the picture often, feeling that she is almost able to enter into the scene. She also loves to listen to the sounds of the harp whenever the door is opened or closed. To Davita, it rings the most gentle and sweetest of tones.
Eight-year-old Davita, a precocious child with a rich inner life, is growing up in turbulent times. Her main outer influence is her parents’ politics. She often falls asleep at night to the sound of impassioned voices talking about dialectic materialism, tools of production, capitalists, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler. Although her parents do not talk about the religions they have abandoned, Davita learns about them both. She learns about Christianity from her aunt, Sarah Chandal; she learns about Orthodox Judaism from her neighbors, the Helfmans, and from Ezra and David Dinn. She learns about the power of the imagination from Jakob Daw, a noted leftist writer and family friend. Jakob tells Davita about the search for truth; the images he uses in his stories come from deep within his heart and lodge at a correspondingly deep level within Davita’s own.
Eventually, Michael’s newspaper sends him to cover the war in Spain, Channah becomes absorbed in Party activities, and Davita is left essentially on her own. She follows the Helfmans to the local synagogue and starts to...
(The entire section is 914 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Ilana Davita Chandal, Potok’s precocious narrator of Davita’s Harp, is in sharp contrast to David Lurie of In the Beginning. Davita is Potok’s first female protagonist, but she is also the first main character in Potok’s novels to seek to join Orthodoxy from pagan society. She is rebuffed by that Orthodoxy, and in the end expresses the rage that David Lurie hoped to overcome by his mediation of secular learning and Orthodox tradition.
Davita’s mother is a nonbelieving Jew, her father a nonbelieving Christian. Growing up in the New York area before World War II, Davita is accustomed to frequent moves. Her parents are involved in the Communist Party in its attempts to fight fascism in Spain and in the United States.
Davita’s early life is full of stories. Aunt Sara, a devout Episcopalian, tells Davita tales from the Bible. Jakob Daw, an old family friend, aging and infirm after having been gassed in World War I, tells Davita the story of a little bird and its futile efforts to stop the beautiful and deceitful music that lulls the world into accepting the horrors of war.
Davita’s father, a writer for New Masses, is killed in the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. In My Name Is Asher Lev, the artist protagonist was introduced to Picasso’s famous painting; now, in Davita’s Harp, Potok provides a dramatic account of the event that inspired it.
(The entire section is 546 words.)