The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Herman is deeply affected by the Holocaust. Everywhere he goes in New York City he seeks potential hiding places from imaginary Nazis. When he vanishes at the end of the novel, Tamara speculates that he has found another hayloft. Yet he flees not so much from the Nazis as from himself, his own greatest enemy. As Isaac Bashevis Singer writes in the author’s note to the novel, “the characters are not only Nazi victims but victims of their own personalities and fates.”

Nazis do not compel Herman to become a polygamist. Tamara offers to divorce him, as does Yadwiga. Masha is willing, however reluctantly, to leave him. It is his desire for all three women that deters him from living with only one. Even before World War II, he was a womanizer, and he was first attracted to Masha when he and Yadwiga were still in Germany waiting to sail for America.

Herman is also a victim of his nihilistic philosophy. Representative of modern Jewry, he is “without belief in himself or in the human race, a fatalistic hedonist who lived in presuicidal gloom,” as Singer describes him. He does not mourn his murdered children—whom he did not want in the first place—nor does he intend to become a father again. When Tamara asks what provisions he has made for Yadwiga’s pregnancy, he replies that the neighbors have done everything. Tamara reminds him, “But it’s your child, after all.” He does not respond but thinks, “So what?” Attached to nothing and to no one, he is finally blown into oblivion by the whirlwind of passions.

Masha, too, is a modern Jew who has rejected a God who could permit the Holocaust. Like Herman,...

(The entire section is 673 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Herman Broder

Herman Broder, a refugee from Poland, where the Nazis have destroyed his family. He lives in Brooklyn and makes a living by ghostwriting for a rabbi, though he tells his wife, Yadwiga, that he is a traveling book salesman so that he can spend time with his lover, Masha Tortshiner, in her apartment in the Bronx. He observes Jewish dietary laws but otherwise has largely forsaken his Jewish faith, having become utterly fatalistic. Perhaps it is this fatalistic attitude, coupled with a smoldering eroticism, that makes him attractive to the three women who love him.

Yadwiga Broder

Yadwiga Broder, a Polish peasant girl, Herman’s second wife and his savior. She hid Herman in the barn of her parents’ farm during the Nazi occupation of Poland. She fell in love with Herman when she worked for his family as a servant and has been devoted to him ever since. She worships Herman and after her conversion tries hard to be a good Jewish wife. Extremely shy and unable to speak much English, she avoids her kindly neighbors and lives only for Herman, with whom she finally has a child.

Masha Tortshiner

Masha Tortshiner, Herman’s lover, separated from her husband, Leon, who refuses to give her a divorce. Neurotic, beautiful, and demanding, she wants Herman to divorce Yadwiga and marry her. She is not above tricking him into consent.

Shifrah Puah Bloch

Shifrah Puah Bloch, Masha’s deeply...

(The entire section is 613 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Similar to many Singer characters, Herman is a victim of society and of himself. He is haunted by hallucinations and nightmares of Nazis...

(The entire section is 242 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Alexander, Edward. Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1980. A thorough and insightful work. The chapter devoted to Enemies emphasizes the importance of the Holocaust in the novel and in Jewish intellectual history.

Denman, Hugh, ed. Isaac Bashevis Singer: His Work and His World. Boston: Brill, 2002.

Farrell, Grace, ed. Critical Essays on Isaac Bashevis Singer. New York: G. K. Hall, 1996.

Farrell, Grace, ed. Isaac Bashevis Singer: Conversations. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1992. A collection of interviews in which Enemies is frequently mentioned. Singer points out that he understands Herman Broder’s lack of belief in God but does not share his attitude.

Friedman, Lawrence S. Understanding Isaac Bashevis Singer. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988. Shows how the novel reflects its post-Holocaust setting. The Jews who survived and immigrated to America had to deal with religious doubt, along with their loss of a common language and of a sense of community.

Hadda, Janet. Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Lee, Grace Farrell. From Exile to Redemption: The Fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987. Systematically traces the development of Singer’s thought, classifying the late work Enemies as a story of redemption. Although Herman exiles himself from God, Yadwiga and Tamara affirm their faith by nurturing a Jewish child.

Noiville, Florence. Isaac B. Singer: A Life. Translated by Catherine Temerson. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.

Qiao, Guo Qiang. The Jewishness of Isaac Bashevis Singer. New York: Peter Lang, 2003.

Wirth-Nesher, Hana. City Codes: Reading the Modern Urban Novel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Wolitz, Seth L., ed. The Hidden Isaac Bashevis Singer. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001.