A Day of Pleasure Analysis
by Isaac Bashevis Singer

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A Day of Pleasure Analysis

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

The nineteen stories of A Day of Pleasure do not provide a continuous, factually detailed account of Singer’s boyhood. Rather, they constitute a collection of mainly self-contained, but thematically related tales that, when taken together, form a literary autobiography aimed at young readers. Occasionally, the author may have creatively combined separate events into one, and in recalling years long past he has invented dialogues. As a whole, however, the book authentically reflects the external facts of Singer’s boyhood, as well as the truths of life that he discovered in growing up. While his stories are set in the distinct (and for many, unfamiliar) world of Orthodox Polish Jewry—which no longer exists—their human appeal and message are universal. Singer himself writes in his preface that he wished to reveal in his book a world little known to the reader “but which is rich in comedy and tragedy; rich in its individuality, wisdom, foolishness, wildness, and goodness.”

Singer recalls his growing-up years in Warsaw with deep affection. His family was poor and often unable to make ends meet, and their apartment, lit by a kerosene lamp, had neither hot running water nor a bathroom. In addition, his strictly religious parents did not indulge his endless curiosity about the workings of the world and the secrets of nature. Nevertheless, the boy’s imagination, the reader learns, was enriched by the varied, colorful stories that he heard at home from his parents, his older brother Israel Joshua, and his sister, Hinde Esther. He himself began inventing tales of a fantastic nature at an early age, and he told them to his friends at play and at religious instruction. Some of the stories incorporate these tales as dialogue.

In the narrow, yet wondrously revealing world of Krochmalna Street, the young Singer also met Jewish folk types who deeply influenced his spiritual growth and whose humane qualities will also affect young readers. One of them, Reb Asher the dairyman (in the story of the same name) touched Singer through the inborn good-ness that led him—a simple, untutored man—to affirm his hard life and to live it “on the highest ethical plane.” In another story, “Reb Itchele and Shprintza,” Singer depicts a couple that ran a combined grocery and teahouse nearby. Without moralizing, he describes the ever-busy wife, Shprintza, as the soul of a civilized and virtuous woman who supported her family, upheld Jewish values, and freed her husband for religious study.

In one of the book’s most uplifting stories, “The Washwoman,” Singer portrays a simple Polish laundress who trudged, every two weeks, with her pack of laundry to his parents’ home. Despite old age, failing strength, and a harsh winter, this proud woman, who wished to burden no one, could not rest easy in her sickbed until she had returned her last load of wash. At the...

(The entire section is 715 words.)