What message or messages is the book My Name is Asher Lev trying to convey?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that one of the most powerful messages that Potok is truing to convey in My Name is Asher Lev is that conflict within one's place in the world is inevitable.  On some level, conflict finds everyone.  Asher Lev is not a militant. He is not a zealot.  He is not driven to create friction with other people. Rather, he has a gift and feels compelled to pursue it.  Asher Lev cannot ignore the compulsion to draw and to paint.  In the end, this is what causes the greatest amount of tension with his family and his community. Asher recognizes that conflict is inevitable because of the gift he possesses:

I looked at my right hand, the hand with which I painted. There was power in that hand. Power to create and destroy. Power to bring pleasure and pain. Power to amuse and horrify. There was in that hand the demonic and the divine at one and the same time. The demonic and the divine were two aspects of the same force. Creation was demonic and divine. Creativity was demonic and divine. I was demonic and divine. 

The ability to create is what causes conflict in Asher's world. Through the pursuit of his gift, Asher is placed in a situation where tension is inevitable. The message that Chaim Potok puts forth in this predicament is that human beings cannot flee from conflict.  There is no direct path beyond it.  The best that one can do is recognize that conflict is a part of who we are and what we believe.  Asher does not seek to cause conflict, but must deal with its reality.  In the end, this becomes one of the fundamental messages out of the narrative.

At one point in his struggles, Jacob Kahn speaks to Asher about the need to embrace one's identity. Kahn tells the young boy that "As an artist you are responsible to no one and to nothing, except to yourself and to the truth as you see it.”  This becomes another critical message out of Chaim Potok's work.  While conflict is a necessary part of being in the world, individuals can recognize that when we are what we love, this becomes the way to understand such pain and agony brought on by conflict.  Asher is forced to recognize that "the truth" is that he loves being an artist.  He is what he loves.  In the end, this becomes a message of the book.  Asher could not be what his father and what his community wanted.  In the end, he had to be what he wanted.  The message here is that when we as individuals know what we are and we are what we love, there might be pain, but there is a better chance for finding happiness within such a setting.  It is better to be unhappy as ourselves than it is to pretend to be someone else.  This becomes another critical message out of Asher Lev's narrative, and reminds us of the important message in the definition of one's identity.