The Characters

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Leon Uris says of his characters, “All the cliche Jewish characters who have cluttered up our American fiction . . . have been left where they rightfully belong, on the cutting-room floor.” “Exodus,” he continues, “is about fighting people, people who do not apologize either for being born Jews or the right to live in human dignity.” Indeed, the characters are not cliche Jewish types. They are, however, stock characters from melodrama. The principals are unwaveringly heroic. They have no moments of self-doubt, no fear of defeat, no gray areas of mixed good and bad traits, no moral dilemmas. The Jews are all good, loyal, honest, intelligent, brave, devoted, generous, and self-sacrificing. They are also clever and intrepid soldiers who outwit the British and Arabs, who invent lethal weapons and original strategies which overcome the forces and arms of their enemies. They place the good of Israel ahead of any personal considerations or ambitions.

Ari and Jordana most clearly personify these characteristics: Both repress their emotions and dedicate themselves to fighting. Their foils are the people they love. Jordana’s beloved David Ben Ami is a scholar and an archaeologist whose delight is in research and study. He is caught up in the needs of Israel and serves in the Haganah; he is not, however, a soldier with the icy control of Jordana or Ari. His love for Jerusalem leads him into a rash maneuver which is fatal. Kitty, beloved of Ari, shrinks from battles, bloodshed, and hardship. She dreams of taking Karen back to America, where the two of them can live in comfort and safety.

Karen and Dov are the child victims of the persecutions in Europe. They develop and blossom among Jews in their new homeland, and as they mature they take their place as soldiers and leaders among the young adults of Israel. Barak Ben Canaan is the wise political leader who would prefer a quiet life on his farm but instead devotes his life to shaping the political future of Israel. He rears his children to be warriors for the new nation. Bruce Sutherland, the closet Jew, suffers nightmares and a stricken conscience when he complies with the British government directives to prevent Jews from reaching Palestine. He finds peace and happiness only after he retires from the British army, settles in Palestine, and quietly aids the Jewish military groups in their planning and training.

In the course of the story, all these characters undergo some change. Ari admits to tenderness, love, and the need he feels for Kitty. Jordana confesses that she has been wrong in her scorn for Kitty and becomes a devoted friend. Kitty overcomes her disdain for Jews as she comes to love them and feel at home in Israel. Karen grows from a searching, confused child into an assured, loving, dedicated young woman. Dov overcomes his bitterness and withdrawal to become a self-confident, loving, brilliant young man who can put aside his personal pain and loss to devote his talents to the needs of Israel. Bruce Sutherland acknowledges his Jewish heritage and embraces the traditions and homeland of his people.

The characters are not well-rounded: They are assortments of stock traits and attitudes, and their changes are brought about more by circumstances than by reflection and choice. The enemies, British and Arab, are uniformly portrayed as arrogant, inhumane, callous, and somewhat thickheaded. Other minor characters, mostly American, such as Mark Parker and the pilots, Stretch Thompson and Foster J. MacWilliams, are stereotypical talented, rootless, macho males with hearts of gold. They come to the aid of Israel overtly for...

(This entire section contains 613 words.)

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the adventure and the money but covertly because they are touched by the plight of the refugees.

Characters Discussed

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Barak Ben Canaan

Barak Ben Canaan, also called Jossi Rabinsky, one of the pioneer settlers and political leaders in Palestine. Although he stands more than six feet tall and has bright red hair, he is a gentle giant with a quiet, meditative personality. Growing up Jewish in a Russian ghetto, he quickly learns how to defend himself physically, but he prefers to exercise nonviolent methods whenever possible. His restraint and wisdom become powerful tools that help him negotiate with the United States for Israel’s statehood and, later, with individual countries for arms.


Akiva, also called Yakov Rabinsky, Barak’s younger brother, another pioneer settler and military leader in Palestine. Although considerably smaller than Barak physically, Akiva is easily stirred and fights at the slightest provocation. He even carries stones in his pockets to throw at people who threaten him. When Simon Rabinsky, his father, is killed in a riot, Akiva stabs to death the man he believes is personally responsible. Barak arrives too late to prevent the murder, but he is observed at the scene and is accused of the crime. The brothers flee Russia together and walk across the continent to Palestine. As other Jewish settlers arrive, Barak and Akiva organize them into communal kibbutzim. Barak barters with the Arabs for land while Akiva develops a strike force called the Guardsmen. Akiva’s tendency toward violence eventually results in a fifteen-year silence between the two brothers, and only when Akiva is about to be hanged by British soldiers does Barak attempt to help him.

Ari Ben Canaan

Ari Ben Canaan, a Palmach military leader. Like his father, Barak, Ari is a handsome man more than six feet tall. Cunning and resourceful, he serves as an invaluable leader for the Jewish secret army, the Palmach, by smuggling refugees and weapons into Palestine in addition to planning and instituting brilliant military strategies. As a boy, he is taught by his father how to defend himself by using a bullwhip; he is also told never to use the weapon in anger or revenge but only in defense. Ari follows that advice throughout his life, as evidenced by his joining the Palmach, the Jewish army, rather than the Guardsmen, his uncle’s terrorist group. He becomes so dedicated to his work, however, that he ignores his emotions and refuses to acknowledge his grief for his dead friends or to proclaim his love for Kitty Fremont.

Katherine (Kitty) Fremont

Katherine (Kitty) Fremont, an American nurse. Having blonde hair and a sad smile, she is an attractive middle-aged woman mourning the deaths of her husband, Tom Fremont, and their only daughter, Sandra Fremont. She meets Ari on Cyprus, and he persuades her to use her nursing skills with the children of a Jewish internment camp who are trapped on the island. While trying to decide if she should accept the position, Kitty meets Karen Hansen Clement, a young Jewish refugee who reminds her of her dead daughter, Sandra. Wanting to adopt Karen and whisk her away to America, Kitty follows her to Palestine, and together they work with children who have survived the German concentration camps. By Karen’s example, Kitty rediscovers a selfless love within herself and is able to overcome her grief. As one of the only Christian characters in the novel, she provides a commentary on Jewish-Arab tensions.

Karen Hansen Clement

Karen Hansen Clement, a Jewish refugee and Palmach soldier. Unselfish and tender, she is first depicted as a child giving her doll to her father to protect him. Smuggled out of Germany before the beginning of World War II, Karen is forever separated from her family but is quickly adopted by the Clements in Denmark. They rear her as their only child and attempt to provide a stable and loving home for her, but, after the war, she travels alone throughout Europe in an attempt to locate her original family. She discovers the atrocities committed in Germany against the Jews and against her relatives in particular, and she decides to live as a free Jew in Palestine. During her trek, she encounters Kitty Fremont and, from her, acquires formal nursing training. They live together in Gan Dafna, an orphanage, until Karen decides that she can be of greater assistance in Nahal Midbar, a frontier settlement. Her brutal murder by Arabs on Passover night serves as the final horror of the novel.

Dov Landau

Dov Landau, a Jewish survivor of the Warsaw ghetto rebellion. A small-framed blond youth, he is deeply embittered by the time he meets Karen in an internment camp on Cyprus. At ten years of age, he is the youngest member of the Redeemers, an underground organization in Poland that attempts to fight Nazi occupation. From the Redeemers, Dov learns how to forge passports and to survive in sewers, two skills that help save his life on numerous occasions. When captured by Nazis during World War II, he escapes death in Auschwitz by forging money for the German government. After the war, he joins the Maccabees, a terrorist group in Palestine, and is instrumental in several raids against various Arab factions. Only through Karen’s tenderness and promises is Dov able to forget his wrath and to find goodness in his own life.

Jordana Ben Canaan

Jordana Ben Canaan, a Palmach leader in Gan Dafna, a Jewish orphanage. With flaming red hair like her father, Barak, she is also tall and shapely, but as a Palmach leader, she has no time for feminine frills. Immediately, she resents Kitty’s presence in the orphanage, viewing her as an outsider who competes for Ari’s attention.

Bruce Sutherland

Bruce Sutherland, a British military commander. With a roll around his middle and a whitening of his temples, at the age of fifty-five Brigadier Sutherland resigns from his command post in Cyprus and moves to Palestine. Having led one of the first armies into Bergen-Belsen, a German concentration camp, and then been assigned to maintain peace at the internment camp in Cyprus, the half-Jewish general suffers from chronic nightmares.


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Some of the novel's significant characters are paired, with one character drawing the other away from a distorting or damaging degree of alienation. The American nurse, Kitty Fremont, if initially "a nice woman who looks at Jews as though she were looking into a cage at a zoo," acquires an affection for Ari that causes her to revise her outlook.

Karen Hansen Clement, a young and beautiful survivor of the Holocaust, helps another survivor, Dov Landau — variously described as "a very good artist" and "a real artist" — overcome his isolation in pain and alienation. However, no simple solutions are offered for some of the forms of alienation presented: Nazi violence drives Karen's professor father into insanity, Ari's father and uncle part because they disagree on what are feasible ways of managing besieged Israel's survival, and Ari's friend, David Ben Ami, dies for his attempt to bring relief to the besieged city of Jerusalem.




Critical Essays