Reuven Malter\'s Development In The Chosen

Malter\'s Development in The Chosen

One of the most emotional scenes from Chaim Potok’s The Chosen is when
Reuven goes with Danny Saunders to talk to his father. Danny has a great
mind and wants to use it to study psychology, not become a Hasidic
tzaddik. The two go into Reb Saunders’ study to explain to him what is
going to happen, and before Danny can bring it up, his father does. Reb
Saunders explains to the two friends that he already known that Reuven
is going to go for his smicha and Danny, who is in line to become the
next tzaddik of his people, will not. This relates to the motif of
“Individuality” and the theme of “Danny’s choice of going with the
family dynasty or to what his heart leads him.”
The most developing character from the novel is Reuven Malter. One of
the ways that he developes in the novel is in hus understanding of
friendship. His friendship with Dfanny Saunders is encouraged by his
father, but he is wary of it at first because Danny is a Hasid, and
regards regular Orthodox Jews as apikorsim because of the teachings of
his father. Reuven goes from not being able to have a civil conversation
with Danny to becoming his best friend with whom he spens all of his
free time, studies Talmud and goes to college. Reuven truly grows
because he leans, as his father says, what it is to be a friend. Another
way that Reuven grows is that he learns to appreciate different people
and their ideas. He starts out hating Hasidim because it’s the “pious”
thing to do, even though his father (who I see as the Atticus Finch of
this novel) keeps telling him that it’s okay to disagree with ideas, but
hating a person because of them is intolerable. Through his friendship
with Danny, studies with Reb Saunders, brief crush on Danny’s sister
(who was never given a name), and time spent in the Hasidic community,
he learns that Hasids are people too with their own ideas and beliefs
that are as valuable as his. He learns why they think, act, speak, and
dress the way that they do and comes to grips with the fact that he
doesn’t have a monopoly on virtue. A third way in which Reuven grows,
though the book doesn’t really talk about it a great deal, is in his
appreciation of life, or cha’im in Hebrew. He almost loses his vision,
his father nearly works himself to death, six million Jews are
butchered in Europe, and Danny’s brother’s poor health threatens Danny’s
choice to not become a tzaddik. When his eye is out of order he can’t
read, and indeed does remark that it’s very difficult to live without
reading, especially with a voracious appetite for learning such as his.
His father almost dies twice and he talks about how difficult it is to
live all alone in silence (which is a metaphor alluding to Danny’s
everyday life) for the month while his father is in the hospital. He
sees Reb Saunders and his father feeling the suffering of the six
million dead, Saunders by crying and being silent, David Malter by
working for the creation of a Jewish state and being a leader in the
movement, in addition to teaching at a yeshiva and adult education
classes. And of course Danny is very worried by his brother’s illness
(hemophillia?) because if he dies it will be even harded for Danny to
turn down his tzaddikship. By the end of the book, Reuven Malter is a
very changed character.
Potok is an expert with using allusion and metaphor. Very subtly
throughout the book he uses this for the purposes of renforcing his
points, foreshadowing, and to make the book a better read when you’ve
read it previously and know the outcome. One example of this, one that I
missed the first time I read the book in 7th grade is the paragraph at
the end of chapter nine where Reuven is sitting on his porch and sees a
fly trapped in a spider’s web with the arachnid builder approaching. He
blows on the fly, first softly, and then more harshly, and the fly is
free and safe from the danger of the spider. This is a metaphor to Danny
being trapped in the “filmy, almost invisible strands of the web” (165)
that is a metaphor for the Hasidic clan that has Danny somewhat captured
and expected to become a tzaddik.

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