The Adventures of Mottel, the Cantor's Son Summary

Sholom Rabinowitz


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Adventures of Mottel, the Cantor’s Son is another collection of Sholom Aleichem’s stories. This time the stories are told by a young child, Mottel, whose father is dying. Despite this imminent death, or perhaps because of it, Mottel seems exuberantly happy. When his father dies and he becomes, according to the terminology of the shtetl, an orphan, he is even happier because it means everyone treats him nicely and he is excused from attending school. The critic Dan Miron suggests that the deeper reason for this happiness is that Mottel wishes to break free of the shtetl’s restrictions, which are represented by his father. However, in the opinion of critics Frances Butwin and Joseph Butwin, Mottel’s happiness is an Oedipal victory for the son over the father, avoiding the father-son conflict found in other stories by Aleichem.

Mottel spends as much time as he can outdoors, playing with a neighbor’s calf or going fishing. He also steals fruit from a garden, which lands him in trouble. He has a nightmarish experience staying with an old man, who first tries to read him a book by the medieval scholar Moses Maimonides and then threatens to eat him, perhaps suggesting that looking back into the past may be dangerous.

Mottel mainly looks forward and wants to have adventures. He is thus quick to join his brother Elye in various business ventures, such as manufacturing soft drinks, producing ink, and working as exterminators. Elye, who has a book suggesting all these projects, is sometimes compared to Menachem-Mendl; like Menachem-Mendl, all Elye’s projects come to nothing. Moreover, as Miron notes, all...

(The entire section is 672 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Butwin, Joseph, and Frances Butwin. Sholom Aleichem. Boston: Twayne, 1977.

Denman, Hugh. “Shalom Aleichem.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. 2d ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, in association with Keter, 2007.

Frieden, Ken. Classic Yiddish Fiction: Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, and Peretz. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

Gittleman, Sol. Sholom Aleichem: A Non-Critical Introduction. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton, 1974.

Halkin, Hillel. “Introduction.” In The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl and Motl, the Cantor’s Son, by Sholem Aleichem. Translated by Hillel Halkin. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002.

Halkin, Hillel. “Introduction.” In Tevye the Dairyman and The Railroad Stories, by Sholom Aleichem. Translated by Hillel Halkin. New York: Schocken Books, 1987.

Miron, Dan. The Image of the Shtetl, and Other Studies of Modern Jewish Imagination. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2000.