Summary: Chapter 9
On Monday morning, Reuven’s father takes him to Dr. Snydman’s office
for an eye examination. The doctor pronounces Reuven’s eye perfectly
healed and says he can read again. Reuven is excited to get back
to his studies and to make up his exams.
That Friday, Reuven calls Roger Merrit, Billy’s father,
to ask him about Billy’s eyesight. Mr. Merrit informs Reuven that
Billy’s surgery was unsuccessful. When Reuven asks if he can visit
Billy, Mr. Merrit says his company has transferred him to Albany,
and Billy has already moved there. When Reuven gets off the phone,
his hands are freezing, and he cannot concentrate. He sits on his
porch and watches a housefly trapped in a spider web. Reuven blows
on the web to free the fly and watches as the spider tumbles from
the broken web and disappears from view.
Summary: Chapter 10
During the first month of summer, Reuven and
Danny spend almost every day together. In the mornings, they study
Talmud with their fathers—although Reuven spends three days a week playing
ball instead of studying. In the afternoons, they read together
in the public library. David Malter frequently joins them, quietly
researching for an article he is writing. On Saturdays, Reuven and
Danny discuss Talmud with Reb Saunders, but Danny’s father does
not ask Reuven any more questions about Danny’s extracurricular
activities. Danny and Reuven spend most evenings together, walking
and talking, although occasionally Reuven goes to movies with his
other friends, an activity from which Danny is prohibited. Reuven
and his father devotedly follow the progress of the war in the newspapers,
and Danny begins reading Freud in German.
One week, Reuven’s father travels to Manhattan to do
research. Reuven spends the week studying with Danny at the library.
During this period, Danny is frustrated with Freud’s German and
seems stuck. Then one day, during a Talmud session with his father,
Danny realizes that he must study Freud like he studies Talmud,
with dictionaries and commentaries. Up to that point, Danny explains
to Reuven, he had been reading Freud instead of studying him. He begins
to make progress with this new approach.
Meanwhile, Reuven reads a book on symbolic logic. He
lends Danny some books to read while Reuven and his father are at
their cottage near Peekskill during the month of August. Upon Reuven’s return,
the boys meet in the library, and Danny is excited to discuss what
he has learned about Freud. The two agree to talk about it in the
near future, but as the new school year begins, Reuven becomes too
busy to talk with Danny about Freud.
Analysis: Chapters 9–10
In Chapter 9, Reuven’s conversation
with Mr. Merritt about the failure of Billy’s surgery forces Reuven
to confront the existence of unjust suffering as he did in the hospital.
He realizes that he has no control over such senseless pain. He
also realizes that such pain is the result of nothing more than
bad luck. In the face of such arbitrary cruelty, Reuven wonders
how to make sense of the world around him, how to reconcile the
idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing God with such random, senseless
suffering. This conflict within Reuven foreshadows the struggle
that the world’s Jews—and the characters in the novel—face in the
wake of the Holocaust.
At the end of Chapter 9, Potok
abruptly changes the tone of the novel’s narration, filling Reuven’s
description of the spider and housefly with symbolic language and
imagery. The trapped fly symbolizes the cruelty and suffering that
are an unavoidable part of the natural world. Reuven’s freeing of
the fly reflects his desire to alleviate this suffering. At the
same time, in trying to help the fly, Reuven hurts the spider, which
suggests that helping someone possibly and perhaps even necessarily
hurts someone else.
Chapter 10 accelerates
the story, relating the events of the entire summer in just a few
pages. Previous chapters took place over the course of a day or
two, and the duration of all of Book I (Chapters 1–4)
is less than a week. Chapter 10’s accelerated
time frame, which continues for most of the remainder of the novel, reflects
the accelerating maturity of both Danny and Reuven. They are growing
up rapidly and acquiring more commitments and responsibilities.
The frenetic pace introduced in Chapter 10 also
reflects the increasingly frenetic pace of Reuven’s and Danny’s
lives. At the end of the chapter, Reuven remarks, “for a long while
I had no time at all to think about, let alone discuss, the writings
of Sigmund Freud.” To show that Reuven and Danny have less time
for discussion and introspection, Potok relates fewer of Reuven’s
and Danny’s thoughts and words.
Chapter 10 also introduces a parallel
between Danny’s study of Freud and his study of the Talmud. By teaching
Danny how to analyze Talmud, Reb Saunders unknowingly has equipped
Danny with the skills he needs to understand Freud. Furthermore,
Danny is using methods gleaned from his religious study to learn
material that subverts his religious faith. This parallel makes
us question whether Danny will be able to reconcile his conflicting
obligations to his father and faith on the one hand, and his desires
to pursue secular thought outside the bounds of his tradition on
the other hand.
Summary: Chapter 9