The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Although Potok is a traditional writer who believes in the primacy of plot, some of his characters seem to stand more for views that Potok wants to put forth than as people integral to the storyline. This is especially true of Channah and Michael Chandal, who seem most substantial when they are espousing the primacy of human rights and their commitment to Communism as a means to create an international community. As characters, however, they tend to blend into the background in the novel.

The same kind of one-dimensionality is suggested by Sarah Chandal and Ezra Dinn. Although the actions of both are important to the story line, their primary usefulness—especially Dinn’s—seems to be as spokespeople for the Christian and Orthodox perspectives that Potok wants to detail. The characters of Ruthie Helfman and David Dinn also serve to present religious information, but because they are in closer contact with the day-to-day musings of Davita—the most fully developed character in the novel—they seem more real somehow.

Davita is the character on whom the novel rests. Her acute perceptions carry the reader along as she tries to make sense of the world around her and as she comes to rely more and more on what she finds within. In the first chapter, the reader learns that Davita is telling the story as she looks back in time. This at least partially accounts for her ways of thinking and speaking, for Davita’s perceptions in the novel are not...

(The entire section is 485 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ilana Davita Chandal

Ilana Davita Chandal, the narrator, who recounts her experience of growing up in New York City during the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II. Because both of her parents have rejected their religious heritage, Ilana Davita is forced to seek her own understanding of faith. Her father dies when she is about nine years old. After her family friend, Jakob Daw, is deported from the United States for his former association with the Communist Party, Ilana Davita has a breakdown and attempts suicide. While recovering on the family farm in Maine, Ilana Davita is cared for by her Aunt Sarah, who continually prays for her spiritual and physical well-being. Subsequently, Ilana Davita reclaims her Jewish heritage but is shocked to learn that she has been denied the Akiva Award for having the highest academic average in her Jewish school simply because she is a girl. In a dream, her Aunt Sarah counsels her to let go of her anger, then learn to be discontented with the world while also being respectful of it.

Channah Chandal

Channah Chandal, the young mother of Ilana Davita. As a result of abuse at the hands of Russian soldiers and her own father’s refusal to help, Channah abandons her Jewish faith and later devotes her life to supporting the communist cause of helping the exploited working class. She and her first husband, Michael Chandal, are especially supportive of the communist cause in the Spanish Civil War in Spain. After her husband’s death, she continues to support communism until Joseph Stalin signs a nonaggression pact with Adolf Hitler. Her...

(The entire section is 669 words.)

Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Potok's deep acculturation in Judaism animates his life-affirming belief in the individual, in society, in the human quest for meaning, and...

(The entire section is 689 words.)