Themes and Meanings
Agnon’s novels focus on the problems of faith, identity, and home. When Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes published his first story in Israel in 1908, he adopted the pen name (later his legal name) Agnon; that story’s title, “Agunot” (“Deserted Wives”), refers to those in limbo, evoking a sense of loss and yearning. This thread runs throughout Agnon’s works, intensifying in the later ones. Institutions and values crumble, but the redemptive power of a life of Torah, in the Land of Israel, remains. After World War II, Agnon’s work, such as the 1945 novel T’mol shilshom (only yesterday), questioned even this assumption. The tension between Galicia—the Diaspora, exile—and Palestine is usually seen in the theme of aliya, “ascending” to the Holy Land, building and being built by it. Agnon’s locales include both the traditional Jewish life in Eastern Europe and the tumultuous Palestine of the Second Aliya: He deals with both the rhythms of the early nineteenth century and the agonizing problems of the twentieth. Yet the Holy Land cannot invigorate the traditional religious community of the Diaspora, and even in Palestine, the community has neither coherence nor stability.
Agnon’s skilled narrative technique produces an illusion of realism, so that the reader willingly accepts the plot developments, despite their mythic nature and the author’s frequent and deliberately naive commentary. Even his realistic detail is symbolic.
The Hebrew title of The Bridal Canopy resonates to the entire complex of traditional Jewish life which focuses on the family, the dominant metaphor for the basic sanctity and meaningfulness of life. The Bridal Canopy is a comic novel, its gentle parody of the Hasidic folktale reflecting the charm of its subjects (Yudel and the Jews of...
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