A Day of Pleasure Essay - Critical Context

Isaac Bashevis Singer

Critical Context

A Day of Pleasure won the 1970 National Book Award. Like all of Singer’s books, it memorializes the destroyed world of Polish Jewry. It introduces readers to the everyday life of this community, as well as to the religious and ethical values that shaped it. Thus, the book can serve as a historical source, providing insight into a culture that in significant ways is less foreign than it might appear to be. The outward manifestations of Hasidic Jewish life—the language, dress, schooling, and the strictest adherence to detailed religious law—may prove strange to most young readers.

These same readers, however, will find that they share key values with the boy Singer and with many of the figures that he describes. These values, which are ethical in nature, helped to establish norms for justice and injustice in Western civilization and thus to regulate private and civic life in its societies. Young adult readers may react sensitively not only to the virtues but also to the failings that Singer reveals in the figures from his past, and they will certainly reject the social injustices described in several of the stories. Drawing on their own experiences in coming of age, young readers will probably also empathize with Singer’s conflict between the traditions of his family and community and the personal freedoms offered by the modern secular world. Because of Singer’s rare storytelling skills, A Day of Pleasure may be assigned as reading for all young adults, as it can help to educate them in the ideals of cultural understanding and tolerance.