(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is the story of an ambitious Jewish boy growing up in a poor neighborhood in Montreal. It is both a portrait of a young man who is desperately determined to be successful and of the various communities he has to deal with in his quest: working-class Jewish, Jewish establishment, French Canadian, and Anglo-Saxon. The novel opens in 1947, while Duddy is still in high school. He creates havoc throughout his neighborhood, tormenting various people who have offended or insulted him.

A series of vignettes introduces Duddy’s family and neighborhood. Although Duddy loves his family, he often feels inferior to his brother, Lennie, who is struggling through medical school. His father, Max, frequently ignores Duddy’s feelings in order to focus on Lennie, the successful sibling. Max’s brother, Benjy, feels the same. While he sends Lennie through medical school, he shows disdain for Duddy. The one member of the family who feels real affection for Duddy is his grandfather, Simcha. He is the one who persuades Duddy that a man must have land in order to be successful.

The summer after Duddy is graduated from high school, he works as a waiter in a resort in the Laurentian mountains. The rest of the staff are college students who either mock or ignore him. One of them, Irwin Shubert, the son of a prominent attorney, continually harasses Duddy. At the summer’s end, he sets Duddy up to bankroll a rigged roulette game. When Duddy loses all the money he worked so hard to make, he escapes to the beach. Followed by some worried friends, he hides, hoping they will think he drowned. He spends the rest of the night with Yvette, another worker at the hotel, who is French Canadian. When Duddy returns in the morning, Irwin is forced to return the money. Duddy has always had many money-making schemes: renting movies, making color movies of bar mitzvahs and weddings, producing feature films, establishing a newspaper. He is thrilled because now he has money to finance some of them. One day, Yvette takes him to a secluded lake near the resort. Duddy becomes obsessed with the land around it, envisioning it as a...

(The entire section is 882 words.)