Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Jerusalem. Holy Land city that is the holiest place on earth to the Hasidic travelers of the novel, as well as the final destination of their arduous journey. Jerusalem is both a real and a divine place to them. The novel describes the travelers’ religious beliefs about the mythical powers of the city in the same tone of voice in which it describes the city’s physical and architectural details, implicitly inviting readers to share these beliefs.

The history of Jerusalem and its religious importance have a strong emotional impact on the protagonists. Arriving at Jerusalem on the eve of the Sabbath, the travelers kiss its walls and tear their clothes in memory of the destruction of the last Jerusalem Temple by the Romans in the second century. The travelers are invited to stay at the House of Study of the Hasidic Jews in the city; on the Sabbath they wash themselves in a bath house before finally praying at the Wailing Wall, which is all that remains of the original Jerusalem Temple. Later, they rent a house with a view of the wall, and, with few exceptions, decide to settle in Jerusalem to remain in a place where they can feel God’s presence in an especially powerful way.


*Israel. At the time in which the novel is set, the Ottoman Empire of the Turks ruled over what the Jewish voyagers of the novel call the Land of Israel—the Middle Eastern land that became a British Mandate Territory after World War I. Both the novel’s characters and its author implicitly use the biblical boundaries of the Land of Israel when thinking of the place, which corresponds only roughly to what became the modern State of Israel in 1948. Landing on Israel’s shores at Jaffa (now Tel Aviv), they are welcomed in the...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Alter, Robert. “S. Y. Agnon: The Alphabet of Holiness.” In After the Tradition: Essays on Modern Jewish Writing. New York: Dutton, 1969. Insightful evaluation of themes and motifs that have preoccupied Agnon. Traces much of the originality of Agnon’s art to his painstaking care with words.

Band, Arnold J. Nostalgia and Nightmare: A Study in the Fiction of S. Y. Agnon. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. A detailed, chronological study of Agnon that illuminates the context and content of his work. Analysis of In the Heart of the Seas emphasizes its humor and fantastical qualities.

Fisch, Harold. S. Y. Agnon. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1975. A brief introduction to Agnon. Argues that Agnon, an endlessly inventive storyteller, attempts to comprehend Jewish history.

Hochman, Baruch. The Fiction of S. Y. Agnon. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1970. Positing Agnon’s gift as more lyrical than novelistic, Hochman determines yearning to be the dominant mode of Agnon’s fiction. Describes the ambivalence in Agnon’s work.

Ribalow, Menachem. “Samuel Joseph Agnon, Major Novelist of Yesterday and Today.” In The Flowering of Modern Hebrew Literature: A Volume of Literary Evaluation, edited and translated by Judah Nadich. New York: Twayne, 1959. A sympathetic look at Agnon’s achievement by a leader of the Hebrew movement in America. Identifies the influences in Agnon’s work.