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.)