Fiddler on the Roof

by Joseph Stein

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Act I Summary

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Act I, prologueFiddler on the Roof opens outside dairyman Tevye’s house in the village of Anatevka, Russia, in 1905. Tevye addresses the audience, telling them that tradition keeps balance in their lives. Everyone has a role in village life, both Jews, such as matchmakers and rabbis, and non-Jews, such as the Russian officials. As long as people stay in their place and do not bother each other, Tevye says everything will be all right.

Act I, scene 1
In the kitchen of Tevye’s house, his wife Golde and his daughters prepare for the Sabbath. Yente the village matchmaker comes to visit. She tells Golde that she has a husband for the eldest daughter, Tzeitel: Lazar Wolf, the butcher. Lazar is an older man, a widower. Golde is unsure about the match because Tevye wants his daughter to marry a learned man. Still, Golde agrees to arrange a meeting between her husband and Lazar.

Not knowing the details of their mother’s conversation, Tzeitel’s sisters tease her about Yente finding her a husband. It is implied that Tzietel is only interested in Motel, a young, impoverished tailor. Hodel, the next oldest, is interested in the Rabbi’s son. The sister’s sing the song ‘‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker,’’ in which they hope to find the perfect man.

Act I, scene 2
Tevye arrives home just in time for Sabbath, the beginning of the Jewish holy day. His horse threw a shoe, and he had to make deliveries by foot. Tevye talks directly to God, saying that he wishes he was wealthy so he could better support his family. He sings the song ‘‘If I Were a Rich Man.’’

The villagers come to Tevye’s house, demanding their dairy orders. One has a newspaper which says the Jews were all evicted from a nearby village. The men worry. A newcomer to the village, a young man named Perchik, tells them that they should know more about the outside world. After filling the villagers’ orders, Tevye invites Perchik to stay with them for Sabbath dinner. Perchik will teach Tevye’s daughters in exchange for the hospitality.

Act I, scene 3
Tevye and Perchik enter the house. The daughters greet their father enthusiastically. Motel arrives, and Golde invites him to stay for supper as well. While the daughters and guests wash up for the meal, Golde tells Tevye that Lazar Wolf wants to meet with him. Golde does not tell him why, and Tevye is convinced Lazar wants his new milk cow.

Tzeitel tells Motel that Yente had visited earlier. Tzeitel worries that a match has been made for her, but Motel assures her that he will be able to buy a sewing machine and impress her father enough to earn her hand in marriage. Tzeitel wants Motel to ask her father for permission immediately, but Motel is afraid. Still, Motel agrees to talk to him. Motel tries to bring up the subject, but the group gathers around the table to say Sabbath prayers, and he does not get a chance.

Act I, scene 4
Tevye meets Lazar at the Inn. Before Tevye comes, Lazar brags to everyone present that he will probably be married. When Tevye comes, the conversation is tense. Lazar assumes that Tevye knows what the meeting is about, but Tevye still believes the discussion regards his cow. When the truth comes out, Tevye is upset. He does not like Lazar, but he reasons that the butcher does have a steady income. Tevye agrees to the match. Lazar tells everyone around them. Even the Russians are happy for him.

Act I, scene 5
Outside of the Inn,...

(This entire section contains 1177 words.)

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the celebration continues. A Russian official, the constable, tells Tevye that their district will have to undergo a ‘‘little unofficial demonstration’’ to impress an inspector who may come through. He tells Tevye as a courtesy to warn the others, because he wants no trouble between them.

Act I, scene 6
Outside Tevye’s house, Perchik is giving a lesson to three of Tevye’s daughters. Golde calls the girls away as they are needed to begin Tevye’s work because he is still in bed. Before Hodel goes, she and Perchik talk. Perchik tells her she is smart. He dances with her in defiance of a local custom. Tevye enters followed by his wife. When Tzeitel comes out with several of her sisters, her parents tell her about the match with Lazar. While her parents, especially Golde, are happy, Tzeitel is not. She confides to her father that she does not want to marry the butcher. Tevye says he will not force her to marry.

Motel runs in, breathless. Tevye tries to brush him off, but Motel insists on offering himself as a suitor for Tzeitel. Tevye calls him crazy. Motel tells him that he and Tzeitel pledged to marry over a year ago. Though Tevye is unsure about going against tradition—particularly breaking the agreement he made with Lazar—he agrees that the tailor should marry Tzeitel.

Act I, scene 7
In Tevye and Golde’s bedroom that night, Tevye tells his wife that he had a horrible dream: Lazar Wolf’s first wife, Fruma-Sarah, came to Tevye and insisted that Tzeitel should not marry Lazar. Later in the dream, Golde’s mother told the dairyman that Tzeitel should marry Motel. Golde is convinced then that Tzeitel should marry Motel.

Act I, scene 8
On a street in the village, people discuss the fact that Tzeitel is marrying Motel instead of Lazar. People come to Motel’s shop to congratulate him. When Chava, one of the sisters, is left in charge of the shop for a moment while Motel sees to his wedding hat, several Russians block her way inside. Another young Russian, Fyedka, insists that they stop teasing her. The Russians step aside and let her pass. Fyedka compliments her, telling her he has seen her reading and admires her thirst for knowledge; he gives Chava a book.

Act I, scenes 9-10
In Tevye’s yard, Motel and Tzeitel’s wedding takes place.

Inside the house, the wedding reception takes place. The couple is toasted and gifts are given. Lazar stands up to congratulate them, but when Tevye interrupts him, Lazar turns angry at the fact that their agreement was broken. They argue for a while, until Perchik points out that Tzeitel wanted to marry Motel. The radical suggestion that a person’s desires should take precedence over tradition disturbs the guests, especially Yente the matchmaker. Perchik continues to agitate the situation when he asks Hodel to dance. It is unheard for a man to dance with a girl at a wedding. Tevye then asks his wife to dance and soon the whole crowd is dancing with one another, save the bitter Yente and Lazar.

The reverie is interrupted by the Constable who says that the Russian officials must make their show of force that evening. Perchik tries to stop them but is clubbed down. Following the destruction, the Constable apologizes, and he and his men go to the next house. The guests begin cleaning up.

Act II Summary

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Act II, prologue
Tevye talks to heaven. It is two months later and Motel and Tzeitel are happily married, but Motel still does not have his sewing machine. Tevye asks God to send his new son-in-law a sewing machine.

Act II, scene 1
Outside of Tevye’s house, Hodel and Perchik enter. Hodel is upset because Perchik is leaving for Kiev in the hopes of changing the Russian policies that resulted in the raid during Tzeitel’s wedding reception. Perchik asks her to marry him and she agrees. Tevye comes in, and Perchik tells him what has been decided. Tevye says he will not give his permission. Hodel and Perchik explain that they are not asking for his permission, only his blessing. Tevye is upset but gives both his blessing and permission. He tells Golde of his decision, and she is angry at Tevye for not asking her feelings on the subject. They make up at the end of the scene, pledging their love to each other in the song ‘‘Do You Love Me?’’

Act II, scene 2
In the village, Yente tells Tzeitel that she has seen Chava with Fyedka. She gives Tzeitel a letter for Hodel from Perchik. He has been arrested in Kiev. The village becomes alight with gossip about the subject. Yente blames the uproar on men and women dancing together.

Act II, scene 3
Outside of the railroad station, Hodel and Tevye wait for a train. Hodel is going to join Perchik in Siberia, where she will marry him. She wants to help him in his social activism. Tevye does not want her to go but blesses her journey just the same.

Act II, scene 4-5
It is several months later, and the villagers talk about Tzeitel and Motel’s new baby. In Motel’s shop, there is a new sewing machine. The rabbi blesses it. Fyedka comes in, and everyone is silent. When he leaves, Chava follows him. Chava tells him that she is afraid to tell her family about their relationship. Tevye comes by, and he asks them to remain only distant friends. Chava tells him they still want to be married. Tevye gets angry and says no.

Act II, scene 6
Tevye pushes his cart on the road because his horse is sick. Golde finds him and tells him that Chava has left home with Fyedka. The couple were later married. Tevye says that Chava is dead to them now. He maintains this stance even when Chava arrives and pleads for her father’s acceptance.

Act II, scene 7
Inside the barn, Yente finds Golde. Yente has brought two teenage boys for the remaining daughters, but Golde thinks they are too young to be married. Many villagers come into the barn followed by Tevye. There are rumors in the village. The Constable comes and tells everyone that they must sell everything and leave the village in three days. Tevye is angry but realizes the futility of fighting.

Act II, scene 8
Outside of Tevye’s house, everyone is packing. The youngest daughters are going with their parents to live in America, while Tzeitel, Motel and their child will live in Poland until they have saved enough money to journey to America. Yente states that she is going to the Holy Land. Golde insists on cleaning the house before they leave. Chava comes and says goodbye. She and Fyedka are going to Cracow. Tevye gives her his blessing before she leaves, mending the rift between them. The play ends with the family leaving for their train.