Study Guide

Fiddler on the Roof

by Joseph Stein

Fiddler on the Roof Summary

Summary

Act I Summary

Act I, prologue
Fiddler on the Roof opens outside dairyman Tevye’s house in the village of Anatevka, Russia, in 1905. Tevye addresses the audience, telling them that tradition keeps balance in their lives. Everyone has a role in village life, both Jews, such as matchmakers and rabbis, and non-Jews, such as the Russian officials. As long as people stay in their place and do not bother each other, Tevye says everything will be all right.

Act I, scene 1
In the kitchen of Tevye’s house, his wife Golde and his daughters prepare for the Sabbath. Yente the village matchmaker comes to visit. She tells Golde that she has a husband for the eldest daughter, Tzeitel: Lazar Wolf, the butcher. Lazar is an older man, a widower. Golde is unsure about the match because Tevye wants his daughter to marry a learned man. Still, Golde agrees to arrange a meeting between her husband and Lazar.

Not knowing the details of their mother’s conversation, Tzeitel’s sisters tease her about Yente finding her a husband. It is implied that Tzietel is only interested in Motel, a young, impoverished tailor. Hodel, the next oldest, is interested in the Rabbi’s son. The sister’s sing the song ‘‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker,’’ in which they hope to find the perfect man.

Act I, scene 2
Tevye arrives home just in time for Sabbath, the beginning of the Jewish holy day. His horse threw a shoe, and he had to make deliveries by foot. Tevye talks directly to God, saying that he wishes he was wealthy so he could better support his family. He sings the song ‘‘If I Were a Rich Man.’’

The villagers come to Tevye’s house, demanding their dairy orders. One has a newspaper which says the Jews were all evicted from a nearby village. The men worry. A newcomer to the village, a young man named Perchik, tells them that they should know more about the outside world. After filling the villagers’ orders, Tevye invites Perchik to stay with them for Sabbath dinner. Perchik will teach Tevye’s daughters in exchange for the hospitality.

Act I, scene 3
Tevye and Perchik enter the house. The daughters greet their father enthusiastically. Motel arrives, and Golde invites him to stay for supper as well. While the daughters and guests wash up for the meal, Golde tells Tevye that Lazar Wolf wants to meet with him. Golde does not tell him why, and Tevye is convinced Lazar wants his new milk cow.

Tzeitel tells Motel that Yente had visited earlier. Tzeitel worries that a match has been made for her, but Motel assures her that he will be able to buy a sewing machine and impress her father enough to earn her hand in marriage. Tzeitel wants Motel to ask her father for permission immediately, but Motel is afraid. Still, Motel agrees to talk to him. Motel tries to...

(The entire section is 1176 words.)

Act II Summary

Act II, prologue
Tevye talks to heaven. It is two months later and Motel and Tzeitel are happily married, but Motel still does not have his sewing machine. Tevye asks God to send his new son-in-law a sewing machine.

Act II, scene 1
Outside of Tevye’s house, Hodel and Perchik enter. Hodel is upset because Perchik is leaving for Kiev in the hopes of changing the Russian policies that resulted in the raid during Tzeitel’s wedding reception. Perchik asks her to marry him and she agrees. Tevye comes in, and Perchik tells him what has been decided. Tevye says he will not give his permission. Hodel and Perchik explain that they are not asking for his permission, only his blessing. Tevye is upset but gives both his blessing and permission. He tells Golde of his decision, and she is angry at Tevye for not asking her feelings on the subject. They make up at the end of the scene, pledging their love to each other in the song ‘‘Do You Love Me?’’

Act II, scene 2
In the village, Yente tells Tzeitel that she has seen Chava with Fyedka. She gives Tzeitel a letter for Hodel from Perchik. He has been arrested in Kiev. The village becomes alight with gossip about the subject. Yente blames the uproar on men and women dancing together.

Act II, scene 3
Outside of the railroad station, Hodel and Tevye wait for a train. Hodel is going to join Perchik in...

(The entire section is 587 words.)