What are the themes and values in The Rise of David Levinsky?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is interesting that you combined "themes and values" into the same question because they are truly interrelated in the novel The Rise of David Levinsky!  The values of Levinsky, as a character, all relate to the themes and are brought about through the actions and events in Levinsky's life. 

The theme of success (and the value of success) is definitely pertinent in the novel.  From the very beginning, we learn that Levinsky has material success (in that he is a millionaire) but he has not achieved emotional success (in that he is completely unhappy).  There are sacrifices in gaining wealth materially. For example, Levinsky gives up some of his original moral values to achieve his wealth.  Questionable methods and illegal activities become intermingled with Levinsky's legitimate business.

Also, the trouble with friendship immediately presents itself.  His old friends feel awkward around him.  His new friends may only be friends because of his money.  Therefore, we can see that Levinsky values friendship highly and feels less self-worth because of these problems of material success.  Friendship, then, can be seen as both a theme in the novel as well as a value for Levinsky.

A third theme is definitely immigration (and specifically that of Russian and Jewish immigrants).  In an interesting (and sad?) way, Levinsky can be considered the epitome of the American Dream.  The American Dream has more to do with turning "rags to riches," but isn't necessarily about happiness.  We can see the same issue in The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald (even though that novel isn't about immigration). The social ladder of immigrants is described,  the poverty of an immigrant just off the boat contrasted with the success of someone like Levinsky. 

My past and my present do not comport well. ... David, the poor lad swinging over a Talmud volume at the Preacher’s Synagogue, seems to have more in common with my inner identity than David Levinsky, the well-known cloak-manufacturer.

Further, the reality for Jews in Russia is vastly different from the reality for Jews in America. 

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The Rise of David Levinsky

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