The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz Additional Summary

Mordecai Richler


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Duddy Kravitz is a motherless, prankish teenager in a high school in which most of the students come from Montreal’s St. Urbain Jewish ghetto. Duddy is the leader of a school gang, the Warriors, who bully other children, especially the students at the neighboring yeshiva, a Jewish religious school. He also is the instigator of a campaign of telephone harassment of the school’s goy, or non-Jewish, instructors, especially John MacPherson, an ineffectual teacher and an alcoholic who despises the boy. Duddy causes the death of Macpherson’s disabled wife when she leaves her bed to answer one of Duddy’s harassing phone calls. Duddy is perpetually haunted by guilt and remorse.

Duddy’s stern but loving grandfather Simcha counsels him, saying that “a man without land is nobody.” This maxim becomes the driving force in Duddy’s ambition to become a success through the acquisition of money. He soon begins engaging in dubious commercial schemes.

A particularly negative influence on Duddy’s moral development is his weak father, Max, who moonlights as a pimp and who idolizes a local gangster called Jerry (the Boy Wonder) Dingleman. Duddy is also demoralized by the ridicule heaped on him by his father and his uncle Benjy, who focus their attention on the eldest Kravitz son, Lennie, a promising medical student who is sure to raise the family’s fortunes.

Pretensions and crassness define Duddy’s social environment. His St. Urbain neighborhood is filled with folly, and his high school is a place of shallow education and anti-Semitism.

After graduation Duddy works at a summer resort. He is subjected to emotional and physical harassment from a group of fellow waiters, snobbish college boys led by a malicious law student, Irwin Shubert, who masterminds a phony roulette game to rob Duddy of his entire summer wages. However, Duddy has become a favorite employee of the resort’s boss and clientele, who contribute to restitute his earnings. Irwin is forced to return the boy’s losses at roulette. Duddy plans to use this doubling of his earnings as an investment to purchase land around a nearby lake shown to him by Yvette Durelle, a young French Canadian waitress at the resort who has become his lover. Duddy’s new life ambition is to acquire this property, settle his beloved grandfather on a farm, and build a lucrative resort.

Duddy is faced with both success and failure in his attempts to raise money; he wants to acquire plots of land around the lake at St. Agathe. Because he is still legally a minor, he uses Yvette as an agent to purchase titles to the various properties. As she become more involved with Duddy as his lover and as his Girl Friday, or secretary, she grows more disillusioned about his marital intentions and his skewed sense of morality in his financial...

(The entire section is 1155 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

David “Duddy” Kravitz, the title character of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, grows up in the Jewish ghetto of Montreal with his widowed father, Max, a taxi driver and part-time pimp, and his older brother, Lennie, a medical student. Duddy worships his grandfather, Simcha, a shoemaker, who believes that a man is nothing without land. Duddy, fifteen when the novel opens in 1947, is an unsophisticated, loudmouthed, obnoxious liar. A harassing telephone call to one of his teachers contributes to the death of the man’s invalid wife. Duddy’s favorite topic is sex. His friend Jake Hersh tells him, “Nothing’s good for you unless you can make it dirty.” Adults consider him “mean, a crafty boy” and hope his family will not suffer too badly from his antics. Duddy longs to emulate Jerry Dingleman, a gangster who grew up with Max.

After high school, Duddy works at a Jewish summer resort, where he is the only waiter who is not a college student. The other waiters are appalled by his crudeness, and one, Irwin Shubert, plots to destroy Duddy by winning all of his money in a crooked roulette game. Irwin justifies his actions by claiming, “It’s the cretinous little money-grubbers like Kravitz that cause anti-Semitism.” Irwin is forced to give Duddy back his money, and the guests feel sorry for him and give him even more. Throughout The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, the protagonist profits from bad experiences.

Duddy arrives at his plan for success when Yvette Durelle, a waitress at the resort, shows him a beautiful, unspoiled lake. He plans to buy the land surrounding it and build his own resort with a plot set aside as a farm for his grandfather. His first scheme to make the necessary money involves hiring the alcoholic Peter John Friar, a blacklisted English director of documentary films, to make films of Bar Mitzvahs and weddings. The first such film is the comic highlight of the novel, as Friar adds stock footage to create an unintentionally hilarious anthropological study of Jewishness, as well as a parody of documentary pretentiousness.


(The entire section is 864 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The structure of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz follows the familiar pattern of the quest. The goal of the quest is defined for the protagonist, Duddy Kravitz, very early in the novel. Duddy must choose whether he wishes to follow the example of the Boy Wonder, Jerry Dingleman, and parlay a few streetcar transfers into a gangster’s fortune or become a success in the manner insisted upon by his grandfather, who maintains that “a man without land is nobody.” Duddy chooses the curious mixture of his grandfather’s elevated goal and more than a few of Dingleman’s dubious methods. The object of the quest becomes nothing less than a beautiful pastoral lake in the Laurentians that Duddy plans to turn into a summer resort. The novel’s major focus is on the obstacles that Duddy must overcome in order to gain the land he needs to become a “man” and what happens to Duddy’s character in the fulfillment of that quest.

The first section of the novel deals not with the quest for land but with Duddy’s conflict with his high-school teacher, Mr. MacPherson. This conflict points out the mixed nature of Duddy Kravitz; for example, he demonstrates his family feeling when he reacts fiercely to MacPherson’s casual insult to his father. He also shows his ruthlessness as he badgers MacPherson with telephone calls, and he makes MacPherson violate his idealistic rule against corporal punishment. MacPherson’s idealism is no match for Duddy’s realism.

Duddy finds the land he desires so badly while working as a waiter at a summer resort in the Laurentians. A maid at the hotel lives nearby, and Duddy swears her to silence, since he needs time to raise money to purchase the lake. He also has a significant conflict with a middle-class college boy, Irwin Shubert. Irwin, like Duddy’s Uncle Benjy, despises the...

(The entire section is 756 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Craniford, Ada. Fiction and Fact in Mordecai Richler’s Novels. Lewiston, Me.: Edwin Mellon Press, 1992. An examination of literary sources and influences on Richler. Discusses Jewish and Gentile aspects of the novel.

Darling, Michael, ed. Perspectives on Mordecai Richler. Toronto: ECW Press, 1986. Discusses themes and images that recur in Richler’s work. Presents different critical views on the character and moral values in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.

Davison, Arnold E. Mordecai Richler. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983. Portrays Duddy as a shallow chaser of the American Dream. Compares his loyalty to family with his rejection of Yvette. A revealing psychological study.

Powe, Bruce W. A Climate Charged: Essays on Canadian Writing, 1984.

Ramraj, Victor J. Mordecai Richler. Boston: Twayne, 1983. Discusses the ambivalent vision that is the core of the themes and characters in Richler’s fiction. Analyzes use of episodic structure and humor in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.

Richler, Mordecai. The Street: A Memoir. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1971. Presents the autobiographical counterpart to many of the characters and scenes in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, including St. Urbain Street and Fletcher’s Field High School. Provides helpful insights into the world of Richler’s fiction.

Wainwright, J. A. “Neither Jekyll nor Hyde,” in Canadian Literature. LXXXIX (Summer, 1981), pp. 56-73.