Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “The Whole Loaf,” Agnon characteristically transformed real events into a powerfully evocative literary gem. The story’s opening recaptures Agnon’s own experience when, in 1925, renting a room in Jerusalem, he had yet to arrange for the immigration of his wife and children, who were still living with his wife’s family in Germany. Agnon’s separation from the family, his sense of guilt at not heeding his wife’s urging to arrange for their speedy reunion in Jerusalem, and the constant dependence on the postal service for linking him with his loved ones are but the most visible biographical details from that period incorporated into this tale of the struggle between modernity and tradition for the soul of the hero. For example, in a letter to his wife dated March 18, 1925, Agnon recounted the unusually hot spring weather in Jerusalem that prevented him from remaining in his room, because its outer walls were covered with sheets of metal.

Eight years later, Agnon drew on these memories to embellish and reflect the spiritual torments of his protagonist, whose sense of loneliness is greater than the mere pain of being apart from his family. Agnon generalized and abstracted his own loneliness, hunger, and discomfort to indicate the existential predicament of the tradition-sensitive hero, who has become skeptical about the very existence of Lord and about the origins of Dr. Ne’eman’s book (details mostly omitted by Agnon in the revised and...

(The entire section is 514 words.)