Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Chaim Potok’s first novel, The Chosen, received the Edward Lewis Wallant Book Award (1967) and was nominated for the National Book Award (1968). On the surface, The Chosen seems to be a sentimental story about two Jewish boys coming of age at the end of World War II and becoming friends despite differences in devotion to their faith. On a deeper level, the novel is about conflict within relationships, between fathers and sons, between friends, and within orthodox Jewish life in the United States. In keeping with Orthodox tradition, the few female characters in the story are separated from the main drama, playing their supportive roles largely in the background as housekeepers, wives, sisters, or nurses.

The reader learns a great deal about Judaism through Reuven’s memoirlike viewpoint, which includes scenes told mostly through indirect dialogue. The story also includes reflection and explanation, as Reuven recalls events as if he is sharing them with a modern listener, or reader. Still, the reader is drawn into Reuven’s emotion as he moves from initially rejecting Danny’s friendship to becoming Danny’s confidant. As he comes to understand Danny, he grows to dislike Danny’s tyrannical father on his friend’s behalf.

This viewpoint serves to illustrate a metaphor of vision throughout the story. The story opens with Reuven nearly losing his sight when a baseball breaks his glasses during a ball game. The relief in the successful operation is pitted against the less fortunate result of eye surgery performed on two fellow patients; the surgery also leads Reuven to see the world in a new light. His world is no longer confined to his Jewish neighborhood. He learns to place his life within the context of world events, notably the end of World War II and what that war means for American Jews.

This larger vision is also expressed in Danny’s personal struggle. Danny is driven to explore the world beyond his Hasidic roots. His brilliant mind is bored in his traditional studies, and he secretly spends free time at the public library, reading everything from the classics to Jewish history and Freudian psychology. As he reads he becomes more discontent with the future chosen for him by Hasidic law. He is to inherit leadership of his people. As he explores the broader world, his eyesight grows worse and he eventually must use eyeglasses during his college studies.

War is another metaphor woven through the story, a metaphor that points to conflict on many...

(The entire section is 1030 words.)