Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

How simple, indeed, is Agnon’s novella? His narrative pattern, seemingly straightforward, is full of strange twists. The reader at first supposes that Hirshl’s love for Blume will, after overcoming the impediments of his parents’ opposition, eventually triumph. Instead, Hirshl marries Mina, a lesser-spirited but otherwise suitable mate. At this point, Blume’s role in the story as the romantic focus diminishes, although it never entirely fades; she persists in Hirshl’s imagination as the unattainable fair one. The reader now expects that Hirshl will persist in his quest for Blume, and that, somehow (perhaps with tragic consequences), his desperate ardor will win her heart. Again, however, Agnon surprises: Hirshl, to be sure, is driven nearly mad with vexation over his unrequited passion, but Blume remains chaste and is indifferent to his clumsy advances. What therefore will become of the pining lover deprived of his amorous goal? The reader expects that Hirshl will decline as a result of his erotic madness into a deeper pit of depression. Not so. He recovers and, against expectations, returns home as a solid, respectable Szybusz merchant. Instead of changing his temperament, he reverts to his former condition, now more mature as a husband and a father, more responsible as a businessman, more conventional as a Jew.

What, then, is the moral of this folk parable? That the old ways, the ways of traditional obligations and traditional constraints upon...

(The entire section is 535 words.)