Son of a Smaller Hero is the story of an angry young man’s confused search for his identity. In what is generally regarded as an apprentice work, Mordecai Richler presents a fairly realistic story of a rebellious and rather self-centered hero who struggles to escape the restrictive identity that his ethnic community and his society would place on him.
Noah Adler is a second-generation Canadian, born and raised in the Montreal Jewish ghetto. His family’s strife and the religious and social strictures of his milieu, which he finds stifling, impel him to leave in search of freedom and selfhood in the gentile world. That world, too, fails to fulfill the hero’s quest. Through a literature class, Noah meets Professor Theo Hall, who befriends him and takes him into his home. Soon, Hall’s wife, Miriam, does more than befriend their boarder and eventually leaves her husband to live with Noah. The romance, so passionately pursued by Noah at first, fades rather quickly when he discovers that the possessive love of and responsibility for an older woman can turn into its own kind of ghetto.
In addition, the ghetto of his upbringing still has its hold on him. When his father dies in a fire, Noah abandons Miriam and returns to his family, no longer the adolescent rebel that he was. Neither has he become a quiescent conformist. When the Jewish community attempts to raise his feckless father to sainthood, he demurs. When his rich Uncle Max greedily tries to exploit the dead father’s new status, Noah resists. When Noah discovers his grandfather’s secret, repressed, lifelong love for a gentile woman he met years before in Europe, this clarifies Noah’s own predicament. The ways of his family and of his ghetto community cannot be his. When Noah’s ambitious mother...
(The entire section is 449 words.)