Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Hodel” is the third in a cycle of stories concerning, and narrated by, Tevye the Milkman, one of Aleichem’s most famous characters. In these tales, Tevye undergoes a series of educational and tragic encounters with life. The account of Hodel, the second eldest of his seven daughters, represents only a partial loss in Tevye’s values, whereas most of the subsequent episodes are marked by more tragic events, as one daughter converts, another dies, and others lead lives of misery.

The incremental fragmentation and destruction of Tevye’s family evokes the biblical archetype of Job, the man of patience, suffering in faith. Although juxtaposed against the story of Job, Aleichem’s Tevye also departs from the biblical analogue. Whereas both Job and Tevye appear to maintain their faith in the Creator, it is Tevye who copes better with his world by laughing his fate away and adopting a humorous stance against all that befalls him. By doing so, Tevye seems to reject the past’s hold on him. The stories consist of largely tragic events related in a humorous tone, and the reader becomes witness to the hero’s cyclic downfall and recovery.

This central theme of Tevye’s fall and recovery is what characterizes the core of this story (and the others in the cycle). It is Tevye who is the story’s main protagonist, the man who weathers the onslaught of events, revolutions, social upheavals, and personal calamities. His ability to remain standing...

(The entire section is 496 words.)