My Name Is Asher Lev

by Chaim Potok

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Student Question

Identify a passage in My Name Is Asher Lev that represents the novel's theme and style, and discuss its syntax and diction.

Quick answer:

Theme and style are perhaps best illustrated in several passages in which Asher speaks with his parents. His conflicts, especially with his father, are a main theme, and the style of the novel, both in narrative and dialogue, conveys much of the alienation Asher feels as he makes his way in the world as an artist.

Expert Answers

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In My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok portrays a young man torn between his traditional upbringing and his need to find his own path, in this case as an artist. As a child developing his drawing talent, Asher is selective in his subjects. His mother asks him, "Why didn't you draw the pretty flowers?" Asher knows, even at this early stage, that there is something dysfunctional in his family. He also knows that the strict heritage of Judaism, represented by his father, is not only one in which the visual arts are not supported, but is one in which tradition plays a large role.

Stylistically, one should examine the very start of the novel and its understated, low-key manner, in which Asher's first-person voice conveys his primary conflict, already alluding to his work The Brooklyn Crucifixion. The exhibition of this piece becomes the climax of the novel in which even his mother, who has largely supported him, reacts negatively to the portrayal of herself as a Christ-figure, torn between her husband and son.

Asher is told by his teacher that painting is not a tradition in which religious Jews have participated. This symbolizes Asher's disconnect from his parents. The dialogue between Asher and his father about painting nudes is a heightened expression of not only this theme, but the general principle of the artist seeking self-expression regardless of what others may think. His father tells him that "painting naked women" is offensive, but Asher's reply is that "everything offends someone." One may ask what this particular exchange means within the context of the novel as a whole and the overall theme of the individual versus society and tradition.

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