Enemies: A Love Story

by Isaac Bashevis Singer

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What are the themes regarding death and life in Enemies: A Love Story?

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Enemies: A Love Story is concerned with the lives of Holocaust survivors, focusing on their efforts to recover after relocating from Poland to the United States. Starting over and the importance of religion are two major themes that address death and life. The question of survival and the related drive to move forward is a central issue for the characters that Isaac Bashevis Singer portrays. Developing new relationships and beginning new families is crucial but also fraught with risk, both practical and emotional. For Herman, the drive to begin anew goes horribly awry, as he marries Yadwiga, believing that his first wife, Tamara, is dead. When he also takes a mistress, however, he must face that he is living a lie. Herman experiences deep conflicts with religion; his father had been a rabbi, and in the United States, he works for a rabbi—but Yadwiga, his new wife, is a gentile.

Hope for the future seems to be symbolized by Masha, the mistress, becoming pregnant, but Singer makes the situation more complicated; Herman wants no more children, and Masha was mistaken or lying. When Tamara appears in New York, he learns that his children were killed. His inability to think things through clearly leads to more bad decisions; unable to cope, he disappears. The abandoned Masha takes her own life. However, Yadwiga was also pregnant, and she bears their child—representing the new American-born generation. Herman’s distancing himself from religion, which might have helped him sort things out, is also indicated by his refusal to manage a Jewish bookstore, a job that Tamara later takes.

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