Enemies: A Love Story Essay - Critical Evaluation

Isaac Bashevis Singer

Critical Evaluation

Generally considered the most important Yiddish writer of the twentieth century, Isaac Bashevis Singer won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978, in large part because of his re-creation of a world that no longer exists. Singer often wrote about life in Polish-Jewish villages before they and their inhabitants were destroyed by the Nazis. Enemies, however, is set in the postwar, post-Holocaust period. Its subject is serious: the ways in which those who survived the Holocaust dealt with their memories and built new lives.

Appropriately, Enemies begins with Herman Broder’s reliving the past. Even though he is now safe, Herman has been forever changed by his experiences. He has lost his faith in God and in human life. While he has married again, Herman hedges his bets by also keeping a mistress and remaining open to other possibilities. He is adamantly opposed to having more children, for it is clear that one cannot count on a beneficent God to preserve them. In fact, all that Herman now believes in are lust, which existed even in the death camps, and deceit, which he believes is the only way one can make it through the world.

Singer also shows how his four major women characters have responded to the Holocaust. Shifrah Puah wears black to keep alive the memories of those who died and feels guilty because she is alive. However, Shifrah still believes in God and observes the Jewish rituals.

Masha hates God as much as her mother loves him. Now, the central reality in her life is the Holocaust. Masha finds sexual stimulation in telling stories of those days while she and Herman are making love. Masha is enchanted with death, and, indeed, she does finally commit suicide.

In a sense, Tamara does die in the Holocaust, for she has become a new person: more unselfish, more considerate, and far wiser than she was before the war. After she and Herman are reunited, Tamara asks nothing for herself, not even that he return to her. Ironically, it is Tamara who now becomes Herman’s only real...

(The entire section is 833 words.)