Themes and Meanings
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 271
Enemies indicts modern Judaism, which Singer regards as vulgar and materialistic without being real. Yadwiga, seeking to convert to Judaism, attempts to learn about the religion from her neighbors. From them she gets the impression that “the insurance policy and the dishwasher were both necessary aspects of Jewish observances.” Implied is Singer’s harsh condemnation of Jews who fail to perpetuate their heritage. Significantly, Masha thinks that she is pregnant but is merely suffering from nerves: She can produce only death, not life. Herman also dissociates himself from birth; he wants no children and does nothing to help Yadwiga through her pregnancy. It is she who says, “I want to have a Jewish child”—she who wants someone to say the memorial prayer for her.
Herman periodically attempts to reform. He puts on his skullcap and returns to the sacred books. During these intervals he is at peace with himself and the world; like Shifrah Puah, he finds consolation in religion. Yet his belief is not as strong as hers—he cannot remain faithful to tradition and so is ultimately lost.
Though Singer sees Jews tormenting themselves, he also sees them saving themselves. If some are their own worst enemies, some also show love. For a selfish Herman there is a generous Tamara; for the sterile Masha there is the fecund Yadwiga. With the birth of a new Masha at the end of the novel, Singer extends hope for a new and better generation. Perhaps this new Masha, safe from the Nazis, reared in a world of loving care, will carry on the tradition that her namesake and her father rejected.