The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Aaron Greidinger is a portrait of Isaac Bashevis Singer as a young man. Both are red-haired vegetarians who grew up on Krochmalna Street. Both are the sons of rabbis but have abandoned traditional Judaism for the secular world. Both are writers, and both write about dybbuks, demons, and false Messiahs. Both are puzzled by the mysteries of the universe; both are irresistibly attractive to and attracted by women.

Shosha is not, however, absolute autobiography. Whereas Singer’s first-known literary effort (in 1925) won a prize, Aaron must struggle many years before success comes to him. Aaron also remains in Poland longer than did Singer, who left in the early 1930’s and thus did not face the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the country. Nor did Singer ever return to live on Krochmalna Street once he had left. Through Aaron, then, he seems to imagine what his life might have been like had he chosen another course.

While Aaron bears certain similarities to Singer, Shosha does not at all resemble his first wife. This woman (Shosha) who remains a child does not seem likely to interest Aaron, who is involved in affairs with four other women when he meets her again after two decades. Perhaps, though, her innocence fascinates him; perhaps, too, in marrying her, he seeks to reunite himself with a past that he has rejected intellectually but emotionally has never abandoned. Throughout his adulthood, he has dreamed of Shosha, suggesting that...

(The entire section is 504 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Aaron Greidinger

Aaron Greidinger, nicknamed Tsutsik, a vegetarian writer who narrates the events of the novel from his humble beginnings as a rabbi’s son on Krochmalna Street in Warsaw to post-World War II New York. Young and idealistic despite his poverty and the growing menace of Nazism in Poland, Aaron must grapple with recurring bouts of despair that naturally result when he, his friends, and his country cannot live up to his high illusions. He nevertheless maintains his belief in a Supreme Power. Red-haired, balding, and sexually attractive to women of all classes, he engages in a series of brief affairs, finally marrying his childhood sweetheart even though he risks his career and very life to do so. After a temporary stint as an aspiring playwright supported by a wealthy patron, he makes a meager living writing articles and serialized biographies for a Yiddish newspaper, thereby acquiring a measure of fame. He escapes from Poland before the Holocaust and relates at the end of the novel the fate of the other characters.

Shosha Schuldiener

Shosha Schuldiener, Aaron’s childhood sweetheart, who becomes his wife. A blonde, blue-eyed beauty, she is physically and mentally stunted. An academic failure, she still manages to attract the intellectual boy Aaron with her total acceptance of and devotion to him, and he has never forgotten her, despite their early separation. When they meet as adults, he reaffirms his love for her, and they marry in the face of others’ incredulity at this seeming mismatch. She matures in the marriage, displaying unusual insight in her philosophical discussions with Aaron and eventually disarming and winning over his friends with her simple charm. She remains compulsively dependent on Aaron, continually voicing fears of separation from him and her family. She dies while fleeing Poland, having lost her will to live as a result of this violent upheaval.


(The entire section is 801 words.)