Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Shmuel Yosef Agnon, who was born in Galicia, then called Austria-Hungary, in this story celebrates some of the most endearing of traditional Jewish values, especially the sacredness of the family and its implied reflection of the love between God and his children. Seeing this idyllic vision through the eyes of a child allows the writer to present it simply and reverently, without any tinge of whatever frustration or disillusionment adult experience might bring. In his later stories, Agnon is just as adept, with a Kafka-like awareness of disorder, doubt, and alienation that seems, perhaps, more typical of modern Jewish experience. The confusion and ambiguity of such stories as “A Whole Loaf” stand in stark contrast to this more transcendent vision of wholeness and spiritual integrity, rooted in family devotion and compassion for those who suffer.

According to Hebrew legend, the Redeemer awaits the time of his coming by sitting among the beggars at the gates of Rome, binding his wounds. In his dream, the child first imagines the deliverance of the Israelites as the receiving of gifts, like the delightful return of his father with toys for all the children. However, when he gains enough courage to tie himself to the great overshadowing bird that dims that vision, he is taken to the gates of Rome and confronted with the suffering Redeemer as beggar. He is, at that point, unequal to this confrontation and turns away to the ominous mountain, which probably...

(The entire section is 408 words.)