Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In the character of Bontsha, Peretz has fashioned the supreme example of tolerance, passivity, and silent suffering. By his silence, Bontsha is as a mirror, reflecting the inhumanity of humanity to humanity in a modern world.

Like the biblical Job—who, as commentaries emphasize, did not complain when his fate turned bad, saying, “Shall we accept good from God, and not accept evil?” Bontsha is a little man in a big world, accepting his lot without a word against other human beings or God. Unlike Job, however, Bontsha lacks the dreams, aspirations, and passion to attain a better life. Through Bontsha’s story, Peretz champions those lowly and downtrodden segments of society, targets for exploitation by a ruling class preoccupied with selfish concerns.

Writing for and about the lower class of Eastern European Jewry at the turn of the twentieth century, Peretz also adopted and adapted familiar aspects of Jewish folktales (including the tales of Hasidic Jews). Thus, for example, in this and other stories, he depends on traditional tales set in Paradise; also traditional is the depiction of the heavenly court. At the same time, in presenting the latter Peretz reveals his experiences as a lawyer. By such means, the author lends his story an aura of the folktale while also keeping the ironic barbs inherent in his modern, secularized point of view.