Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Next to Hawaii (1959), The Source is considered Michener’s greatest and most complex novel, both in scope and in theme. The concerns of the Middle East (past, present, and future) had been in Michener’s mind for nearly ten years before he wrote this novel and are sometimes judged as being too optimistic given the end of the story and the trouble that has erupted since the novel’s publication. Nevertheless, Michener received wide acclaim for what he attempted to do with The Source, and in 1967 he received the Einstein Award for his work within an organization calling itself Americans for Permanent Peace in the Middle East. His interest in this topic also prompted him to write a number of articles, and in 1974 he was awarded an honorary degree by the Yeshiva University in New York.

Michener is never afraid to put his own questions and concerns into a novel, nor is he afraid to answer those questions or offer solutions. As a world traveler, historian, journalist, essayist, and novelist, Michener shows again and again that he believes in some sort of a bond or continuity that links all of mankind throughout the ages. The Source offers to Michener the topic of Judaism, one of the world’s most painful and joyous examples of continued religious persecution and endurance. It is a novel celebrating endurance, and in the final words, spoken by Eliav: “Life isn’t meant to be easy, it’s meant to be life.”