Critical Evaluation

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

CHILDREN OF THE GHETTO is divided into two books. The first and more interesting part is titled “Children of the Ghetto”; the second part, “Grandchildren of the Ghetto,” deals mainly with the issue of assimilated Jews in England. Book 1 is basically a survey of the life of the ghetto; appearing in a loosely connected narrative, a number of characters struggle to survive in the hostile environment of the slum. In book 2, the central characters are Anglicized Jews who have lost the core of their beliefs. Israel Zangwill has no sympathy for them and exposes their hypocrisy and fears.

The ghetto, as here presented, was a separate community continually struggling with the influx of destitute Poles, and the fierce, surging life within—a life both comic and tragic—was regulated by the canons of strict orthodoxy. In one sense, this work is not a novel. There is no central plot, only a series of loosely grouped episodes, and the numerous characters are only vaguely connected in many instances. Although Zangwill wrote from a parochial point of view, the book is valuable for its descriptions of seething life, its study of racial strivings and discontents, and its warm, sympathetic character sketches.

The central theme of CHILDREN OF THE GHETTO is the conflict over the survival of the Jewish religion. In book 1, it is possible to see the beginnings of the end. The younger generation is no longer willing to carry on the...

(The entire section is 512 words.)