The Golem Essay - Critical Context

Isaac Bashevis Singer

Critical Context

The ancient legend of the golem began appearing in novels, plays, and films beginning in the late nineteenth century. The golem was even featured in a Marvel comic book in the 1970’s. Most treatments of the legend were written for adults, until Beverly Brodsky McDermott’s picture book The Golem: A Jewish Legend appeared in 1976. The Golem: The Story of a Legend, written for children by Nobel Prize winner Elie Weisel, followed in 1982, the same year that Singer—also a Nobel Prize recipient—published his version.

All three authors generally tell the same story, with variations. The versions diverge most significantly regarding Genendel’s role in the narrative’s downturn of events. McDermott omits her participation entirely, while Weisel includes hers among other similar schemes—well-intentioned or otherwise—to misdirect the golem’s purpose. Critics seem at a loss to explain Singer’s choice here. Is Singer reflecting the traditional view of women in much Western literature since the Bible as temptress, or is he simply streamlining the narrative?

In any case, appearing twenty-some years after Singer’s first fictional work for children, The Golem continues to demonstrate Singer’s conviction that “No matter how young they are, children are concerned with so-called eternal questions.” The Golem also resembles Singer’s other writings for children in its basis in folklore. According to Singer, being rooted in folklore “alone makes children’s literature so important,” adding that without it, “literature must decline and wither away.”