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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 417

The novel begins with David Levinksy's birth in Antomir, Russia in 1865. His father dies shortly after he is born, and his mother is fiercely protective of him. He attends a Talmud school for seven years, where he meets a fellow student named Naphtali and a scholar named Reb Sender, whose wife supports him while he studies Talmud. A group of Gentiles attacks David during Passover (which is also the time of Easter), and his mother pursues his attackers and is killed. A wealthy woman named Shiphrah Minsker takes David under her wing, as is customary for Talmud scholars, and he falls in love with her daughter, Matilda. She encourages him to get an education, but after vicious anti-Semitic riots in Russia, he decides to go to America, and Matilda gives him the money to do so.

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In 1885, David arrives in New York, where a wealthy man named Mr. Even provides him with food and money, which David uses to start a peddling business. David's piety declines, and he eventually shaves his beard and tries to dress and speak like an American.

A fellow peddler named Max Margolis convinces David to try to woo women, and David tries his charms, with little success, on his landlady Mrs. Levinsky (who is not a relation) and his former landlady, Mrs. Dienstog. He starts night school and is eager to pursue his education; he dreams of attending City College.

He meets Gitelson, a fellow passenger from his trip over to America, who encourages him to enter the garment trades. David starts working as the operator of a sewing machine, and when he spills milk on some coats, his employer mercilessly chastises him. He starts a company with Chaikin, his boss's rival, and uses his savings on his business instead of on pursuing education. He meets Matilda in New York, but she is put off by his fancy clothes and bourgeois ways.

David begins a relationship with Dora, Max's wife, and moves in for a time with her family as a boarder until she asks him to leave. She breaks off the relationship, and he goes on the road for business. He is engaged to a woman named Fanny Kaplan, the daughter of an Orthodox man, but falls in love with a woman named Anna Tevkin when he is vacationing in the Catskills. She is the educated daughter of a Hebrew writer, but she does not return his love. In the end, though he is worth millions, David feels alienated and lonely.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 798

In 1913, in response to a request from the popular McClure’s magazine for articles describing the success of East European immigrants in the U.S. garment trade, Abraham Cahan, editor of the Jewish Daily Forward and also a successful English-language novelist, wrote several short stories instead. Subsequently published as a novel, these pieces of fiction permitted Cahan to explore problematic aspects of the process of Americanization, produce vignettes of immigrant Jewish life, and describe the development of a major American industry.

The Rise of David Levinsky purports to be a memoir written thirty years after young David Levinsky arrived in the United States in 1885 with four cents in his pocket. Now the owner of a leading cloak-and-suit factory, he has accumulated more than two million dollars, but he is not a happy man. The novel is divided into fourteen books, each of which consists of several chapters.

The first four books, approximately one-sixth of the total pages, deal with Levinsky’s life in Russia. Orphaned at the age of three, he grew up desperately poor in the small Russian town of Antomir. Encouraged by his mother, he entered a Yeshiva as a scholarship student at the age of thirteen and studied the Talmud for the next seven years. One Easter, on the way home from the synagogue, David was beaten by a group of young boys. His mother,...

(The entire section contains 1215 words.)

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