The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Eduard Sam is the only character who deserves discussion. The book’s attention never strays from him, in contrast to Garden, Ashes, in which the narrator’s childhood experiences receive considerable attention. The other characters in Peanik are minor, their only purpose being to sharpen the focus on Sam. Sam’s chief traits are the same as those highlighted in the previous novel. He is a dreamer, highly impractical and seemingly incapable of providing for his family, despite his best efforts. He is utterly naive in dealing with other people, most of whom, especially his relatives, take advantage of him whenever they can. During the investigation, it is revealed that he has had wide contacts with a large variety of people, many of whom are now suspected by the authorities. These contacts eventually bring about his demise, although clearly they are used only as a pretext; the primary reason for his persecution is that he is Jewish.

Sam’s reaction to persecution changes noticeably in this novel. In the previous novel, he was almost optimistic and buoyant; now he seems resigned to his fate, an attitude only glimpsed earlier. Sam is also more attentive to the needs of his family in this book. Earlier, he adopted a devil-may-care attitude toward his wife and children; now he is more concerned about their welfare. The results are the same, but his involvement is markedly different. Furthermore, while in Garden, Ashes he still hoped to publish his poetry and his railroad schedule as his life’s achievement, in Peanik he seems to be resigned to failure; he seldom mentions his artistic endeavors in this book. Clearly, he has become the ultimate victim. Somehow the designation of a specific person—Eduard Sam—persecuted for a specific reason—being a Jew—has been muted; instead, he has become a symbol of humanity’s endless suffering.

The role of the narrator, presumably his son, has been reduced to that of an observer and not a totally objective one, although in the descriptive chapters, he is as detached as possible under the circumstances. As previously mentioned, the narrator is now satisfied to let Sam tell his own story, either directly or through the police investigations.