Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Nomad and Viper” is about how the world’s or a country’s polarities may have underlying connections, which if grasped may facilitate communication and communion and if not grasped may lead to miscommunication and hostility. Many polarities are revealed in the story: Arab versus Israeli, herder versus farmer, nomad versus settler, foreign language versus native language, poetic versus prosaic, wild versus domestic, old versus young, ancient versus modern, humanitarianism versus vengeance, male versus female, good traits versus bad traits in human nature, desert versus orchard, and nature versus technology.

Geulah herself, both within and without, exemplifies many of these polarities, which need to be, but are not, harmonized. Her sharp and acerbic intelligence contrasts with her love and writing of poetry. She feels (as do others) the poetic lure of the Bedouins but also finds them repellent. She yearns for romance but rejects it. She loves the orchard—a symbol of creation—but nevertheless feels a need to break a discarded bottle into smithereens—a symbol of destruction. Her very name, “Geulah,” comes from a Hebrew word that means both “redeemer” and “avenger.”

In contrast to the story’s narrator, a writer whose fictional works Geulah criticizes as being polarized into black and white sides, Amos Oz suggests that the whole must be comprehended, that both Arabs and Israelis have their strong and weak points.