Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 501
This story succeeds through a lyrically rhythmic, lucid style that reflects the uncluttered, trusting perception of the naïve boy with just a touch of the older, wiser understanding of the man who looks back nostalgically at his childhood:When my father, of blessed memory, went to the fair at Lashkowitz for the first time, my mother was once standing at the window when she suddenly cried out, “Oh, they’re strangling him!” Folk asked her, “What are you saying?” She answered, “I see a robber taking him by the throat,” and before she had finished her words she had fainted. They sent to the fair and found my father injured, for at the very time that my mother had fainted, somebody had attacked my father for his money and had taken him by the throat; and he had been saved by a miracle. In later years, when I found in the Book of Lamentations the words “She is become as a widow,” and I read Rashi’s explanation, “As a woman whose husband has gone to a distant land and who intends to return to her,” it brought to mind my mother, peace be with her, as she used to sit at the window with her tears on her cheeks.
This episode, with its suggestion of clairvoyant sensitivity in the mother, is one of several that suggest the invisible bond of family love that transcends time and space. At one point, the narrator’s little sister puts her ear to the dinner table and listens intently, then announces with joy, “Father is coming! Father is coming!” and it was so. The periodic separation and joyful reunion establish a rhythm in the story, in the boy’s childhood, and, by analogy to the Old Testament relationship between God and his chosen people, in the religious understanding of history.
The encounter with the beggar has a speechless, almost surrealistic quality. The presence of the brilliant sun suggests that Heaven alone witnesses and approves the deed. Whether the beggar is literally the Redeemer does not matter in the purity of symbolic action.The sun stopped still in the sky, not a creature was to be seen in the street; but He in His mercy sat in Heaven and looked down upon the earth and let His light shine bright on the sores of the beggar. I began loosening my kerchief to breathe more freely, for tears stood in my throat. Before I could loosen it, my heart began racing in strong emotion, and the sweetness, which I had already felt, doubled and redoubled. I took off the kerchief and gave it to the beggar. He took it and wound it around his sores. The sun came and stroked my neck.
The author’s use of Hebrew legend and ethnic customs and rituals precludes a judgment of sentimentality that might otherwise arise when childhood experience is somewhat idealized. One realizes that such a story transcends realism, expressing the archetypal dreams of a devout people.
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