Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Jacob, a devout, scholarly Jew, twenty-nine years old as the novel opens. A survivor of a massacre, he is sold as a slave to Polish peasant Jan Bzik, who uses him as a cowherd. He is tall, with brown hair and blue eyes, and he is descended from rabbis. He resists the temptation to commit adultery with Wanda, Jan’s daughter, in a mountain village in which diseased sexuality is rampant, but he finally succumbs and is tormented by shame and desire. After five years, Jacob is ransomed by fellow Jews. Their account of Cossack atrocities in his village and of the death of his wife and children increases his guilt. He returns to Wanda after seeing her in a dream. It is Jacob’s faithful nature that makes him return to Pilitz twenty years after her death, and there he dies, faithful to the last.

Wanda Bzik

Wanda Bzik, the widowed daughter of Jan. She is almost pagan but comparatively civilized, a fair-haired, good-looking, capable, and healthy woman. Managing her father’s household, she falls in love with Jacob and helps him by bringing him food and treating a snakebite. She pursues him passionately and is eager to learn his doctrine. When he is ransomed, she falls sick; she is in this condition when he rescues her. She accompanies him to Pilitz, pretending to be a deaf-mute, Dumb Sarah, and trying to behave as a Jewish married woman should. She dies giving birth to a son and reveals, in her agony, the truth about...

(The entire section is 572 words.)

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Although The Slave is filled with villagers and peasants, only two characters, Jacob and Wanda, are fully developed. Physically, Jacob does not look quite Jewish: He is tall and blue-eyed. He speaks a better Polish than his Jewish compatriots in Pilitz, and while they cringe before their Gentile overlord, Jacob stands up to him. Jacob is ashamed of his co-religionists’ failure to resist the Cossacks; when soldiers attempt to carry him off, he fights and defeats them.

Jacob is different, not because he is less Jewish but rather because he is more. Jacob, whose biblical namesake was a successful wrestler, admires the ancient Jewish heroes, whom he takes as his model. His beliefs, too, are firmly rooted in the Bible. Alone in the mountains, he begins to engrave the commandments on a large rock, just as Moses had. He keeps a calendar and, like the Jews in the days of the Temple, watches the phases of the moon so that he may observe all the holidays at their proper time. To avoid violating the Sabbath, he gathers extra food for himself and his cattle during the week, just as the Jews in the desert collected extra manna on Friday because none fell on the Sabbath.

Observing the rituals is important to Jacob, but even more important is respect for his fellowman. Following Amos, he is just, merciful, humble. Unlike his predecessor, also supposedly a religious Jew, he does not abuse Pilitzky’s trust, nor does he foment factionalism in the...

(The entire section is 575 words.)

Characters Developed

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Jacob, the protagonist of the novel, is an honorable and learned man who suffers great misfortune, such as the murders of his wife and two...

(The entire section is 752 words.)