Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories Essay - Critical Essays

Isaac Bashevis Singer


Singer draws on the rich tradition of myths to tell his stories. The most immediate source of his legends and fables is the pietistic literature familiar to Eastern European Jews. Such literature is known in Yiddish as bubah meises (roughly translated as “tales my grandmother told me”), serving to transmit lessons and values from generation to generation. As pointed out by Canadian critic J. A. Eisenberg, Singer’s fiction derives its emotional charge from the principle that the greater the fall, the more forcefully the intended “ethical concept” comes through. Adding to this effect is the stories’ shtetl setting, its intensely religious atmosphere heightening the tension between ideal and practice.

Because such archetypal figures as the Devil play vital roles in shtetl consciousness, Singer is able to blend seamlessly the real and the mythical in his tales. By providing a mythological framework integral to the character’s lives, he avoids an artificiality and abstractness that can deaden allegorical writing, especially for young readers.

Contributing to the immediacy of Singer’s style, as well as effectively dramatizing inner conflict, devils and demons personify drives that torment the psyche. While some critics might be concerned about the risk that their grotesqueness might traumatize young readers, psychologist Bruno Bettelheim would argue that the more monstrous the opponent, the more effectively are embodied a child’s anxieties and the greater the release provided by the opponent’s...

(The entire section is 629 words.)