Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Hirshl Hurvitz (HUR-shuhl), the weak-willed son of a wealthy shopkeeper. He falls madly in love with the family servant, Blume, who is also his cousin. His domineering mother manipulates him into a more suitable marriage, which he spinelessly accepts. His feelings for his wife range from detached tolerance to hatred. In the first year of his marriage, he falls into a deep depression that culminates in insanity. With the help of Dr. Langsam, he slowly returns to health and is able to find a measure of happiness within the conventions of family life and the traditions of the Jewish community.
Blume Nacht (BLEW-meh nahkt), Hirshl’s beautiful, penniless cousin, who becomes a servant in his household after the death of her parents. She is a paragon housekeeper and cook, yet quiet and retiring and as mysterious as her name, meaning “night flower,” suggests. She secretly returns Hirshl’s love, but when she learns of his betrothal, she leaves her employment with the Hurvitzes. Deeply hurt, idealistic, and proud, she remains loyal to her secret love, although two other men want her. By the novel’s end, she has faded from sight.
Mina Ziemlich (ZEEM-lihk), the daughter of a wealthy tavern keeper of a nearby town. She has been educated in a city boarding school and is considered cultured and fashionable. Although her betrothal to Hirshl is a product of matchmaking and misunderstanding, she admires her groom and is attracted to him....
(The entire section is 670 words.)
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The Characters (Masterplots II: World Fiction Series)
On the surface, many of the villagers in Agnon’s novella resemble stock figures of Jewish folk tradition. Tsirl, the typical manipulative mother, controls both her unassertive son and her genial husband. Yona Toyber is the shtetl matchmaker, whose wisdom derives as much from the conventions governing his vocation as from his own subtlety and the sense of tact which he acquired by observing human nature. The youthful protagonist, Hirshl, resembles in certain comic ways the classic schlemiel, the feckless victim of other people’s caprices.
Yet upon closer inspection, these characters appear to be less stereotypical, more complicated than a reader might suppose. After Hirshl suffers a nervous collapse, his parents act with unexpected sense to assist their son with proper help. Instead of reproving him, Tsirl supports him with motherly constancy. Yona Toyber is by no means the typical gossipy factotum of Jewish folklore; he is a man of religious erudition and not a gossip at all. A gentle, dignified, self-trained psychologist in his own right, he is one of the two authority figures who represent the internal harmony and continuity of a God-fearing community. The other is the university-trained neurologist, Dr. Langsam. Although a secular Jew with a wider range of intellectual and cultural interests than those held in common by the shtetl, he is nevertheless a religious man. Dr. Langsam’s professional “treatment” for Hirshl is, when judged according...
(The entire section is 450 words.)
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Aberbach, David. At the Handles of the Lock: Themes in the Fiction of S.J. Agnon, 1984.
Alter, Robert. “Shmuel Yosef Agnon: The Alphabet of Holiness” and “The Israeli Novel,” in After the Tradition, 1969.
Band, Arnold J. Nostalgia and Nightmare: A Study of the Fiction of S.Y. Agnon, 1968.
Fisch, Harold. S.Y. Agnon, 1975.
Hochman, Baruch. The Fiction of S.Y. Agnon, 1970.
Kirkus Reviews. LIII, October 15, 1985, p. 1094.
Library Journal. CX, November 15, 1985, p. 108.
The New York Times Book Review. XC, December 22, 1985, p. 8.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXVIII, October 11, 1985, p. 58.