How female roles influence Yasha in The Magician of Lublin?

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The women in Yasha's life are a source of both pleasure and pain, and their influence upon him is perhaps the principal element that drives the plot of The Magician of Lublin.

Yasha uses and manipulates women, though he seems to do so without guile and, at first, without much awareness that his behavior is wrong. Nor is there any real deception in the way he acts, since each woman seems to know he's involved with other girls and, before Yasha's failed burglary brings everything to a head, apparently forgives him. Esther, his wife, suffers in her loneliness at home while he goes on tour. Magda, his assistant in his performances, is madly in love with him, as are Zeftel and Emilia. His future plans are dominated by Emilia, though he realizes he also has feelings for her daughter, Halina. This, as well as being a latent source of guilt to Yasha because she wants him to convert to Christianity, results in Yasha's failed burglary attempt, for he needs money to take Emilia and her daughter to Italy.

Magda's suicide is then the immediate trigger for Yasha's withdrawal from the secular and basically hedonistic life he's led. He has an epiphany that he's betrayed all the women in his world, and instead of pulling himself together and seeking medical attention for his injured foot, he wanders into the Warsaw night and resigns himself to death. His career as a magician and his interest in earthly life are over. From this point he commits himself to the religion of his own people, though in a bizarre way, becoming a holy man isolated in a tiny brick chamber built for him in his home town of Lublin. His decision to do so is almost more akin to that of a Hindu who renounces the material world and becomes a samana, like Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, than to that of the devout in Judaism.

His guilt about women has made him take this final step, but he is drawn back to Lublin by the presence there of his wife Esther, ultimately the most important of all the female figures in the story. Yet the novel closes with his reading, in his isolated tiny house, a letter from Emilia. Thus Esther and Emilia are the final influences upon him, the former representing the world of Judaism to which he has returned, and the latter the outside, wordly milieu he has rejected. It is an inconclusive ending, leaving open the ultimate question of whether the course Yasha has taken is "right" or "wrong."

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