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Values in novels

 

Within the three novels three major conflicts can be found. In The Assistant, the main figures are in a religious, but also human conflict about what is really meant by the notion of „real Jewishness“. Seize the Day is a novel whose conflicts are centered around the Father-and-Son-conflict on the one hand and the notion of material values on the other hand. The Violent Bear it away is finally characterized by the conflict between two ideologies, a fundamentalistic point of view in regard of religion and life on the one hand and and an absolutely rational one. In the following chapters these conflicts will be shown. 

4.1 Values and connected conflicts in The Assistant, Seize the Day, The Violent Bear it away 

The three novels The Assistant, Seize the Day, The Violent Bear it Away all bear certain conflicts of different nature. These conflicts will be shown in the next chapters.

4.2 The Assistant and the „real Jewishness“

The Assistant is the story about Frank Alpine and his conversion to a better person. Alpine is a poor young man of Italian origin and take part in a robbery. After realising that he had done wrong, he works for his victim, the Jewish grocer Morris Bober. He works hard for his new boss and so he gets his sympathy; at the same time Frank Alpine starts to steal money out of the cash register. He knows that he is committing a sin; at the same time he falls in love with Bober’s daught Helen, whose dream is to get education. First, he has no chance, but then Helen gets romantics feelings, too. After having saved her from being harrassed from another man, Frank rapes Helen. When realising that he had done wrong to her, he decides to changes. When losing his job because of the theft, he confesses the assitance in the inicial robbery. After Morris Bober’s decease Frank Alpine returns to the grocery and becomes a „good man“, who supports Helen.         

4.2.1 Real Jewishness as a Real Humanity

What is Jewishness and what do people do to be real Jews is one of the central questions of this novel. Jewishness can be defined in different ways. In a formal way it can be said that every person who has a Jewish mother is seen as a Jew.
The different characters of the novel have their own specific definitions of what they understand by the term Jewishness. The term of Jewishness can be seen as a specific term meaning human behaving and the value of humanity. Morris Bober, the grocer, talks about the Jewish Law and tries to pronounce in this way a desirable behaviour, that he understands by the term Jewishness. 
A discussion between Morris Bober and Frank Alpine describes what the old Jew understands by this term:
Frank Alpine says:
„First thing, you don’t go to the synagogue – not that I have ever seen. You don’t keep your kitchen kosher and you don’t eat kosher. You don’t even wear one of those little black hats like this tailor I knew in South Chicago. He prayed three times a day. I even hear the Mrs say you kept the store open on Jewish holidays, it makes no difference if she yells her head off.“
In this quotation he wonders why Morris Bober does not follow the official Jewish rules. Frank Alpine had the idea that every „good Jew“ has to follow the official rites to qualify himself as a Jew. As the pld man does not think in the same way, he replies:
„Sometimes, [...] to have to eat, you must keep open on holidays. On Yom Kippur I don’t keep open. But I don’t worry about kosher, which is to me old-fashioned. What I worry is to follow the Jewish Law.“
All the points mentioned seem to go against Frank’s Alpine ideas of the Jewish Law. Frank Alpine finds that what he sees is Judaism. According to his point of view, many of the things Morris Bober does, are not part of what he thinks Jewishness should be. Morris Bober does not care very much about the symbols of the Jewish religion, he cares about the Jewish Law, a law which shows a good way of how to behave. And in the following passage Morris Bober explains what he understands by the term Jewishness:
„This is not important to me if I taste pig or I don’t. To some Jews is this important but not to me. Nobody will tell me that I am not Jewish because I put my mouth once in a while, when my tongue is try, a piece of ham. But they will tell me, and I will believe them, if I forget the Law. This means to do what is right, to be honest, to be good. This means to other people. Our life is hard enough. Why should we hurt somebody else? For everybody should be the best, not only for you or me. We ain’t animals. This is why we need the Law. This is what a Jew believes.“
Within this passage Morris Alpine gives an explication of what he understands of Jewishness and the Jewish Law. He sets great store by real vitues such as descibed by the three adjectives right, honest and good. Thus, one can conclude that being a good Jew means living with these virtues and not just the superficial behaviour that is shown by many other people who follow Jewish rules strictly, but not the virtues mentioned by Morris Bober.
Morris Bober leads his life in the way he thinks is right:
„When Breitbart first came to Morris’s neighbourhood and dropped into the store, the grocer, seeing his fatigue, offered him a glass of tea with lemon.“
Although the shop owner does not possess very much he tries to be human and offers something refreshing to his exhausted customer. All customers, although they do not leave very much money in the shop, are dealt with generously and honestly.
The grocer cannot be completely wrong with his view about the real Jewishness, this is also shown in the rabbi’s speech during Morris Bober’s funeral:
„When a Jew dies, who asks if he is a Jew? He is a Jew, we don’t ask. There are many ways to be a Jew. So if somebody comes to me and says, „Rabbi, shall we such a man call Jewish who lived and worked among the gentiles and sold them pig meat,trayfe, that we don’t eat it, and not once in twenty years comes inside a synagogue, is such a man a Jew, Rabbi? […] Yes, Morris Bober was a true Jew because he lived in the Jewish experience, which he remembered, and with the Jewish heart.“ He followed the Law which God gave to Moses on Sinai and told him to bring to the people. He suffered, he endured, but with hope. […] For such reasons he was a Jew.“
This moving speech, held by a rabbi who had never seen Morris Bober, shows that the grocer has obviously lived according to the Jewish Laws. Although Morris Bober was not an orthodox Jew and did not even live according to the Jewish rules, he lived a real Jewishness, as it should be lived in the eyes of the rabbi. The grocer lived in a way any man, not only Jews should live. Ochshorn writes that Morris has many qualities of a mensch, goodness, gentleness, humility and love. She sees Morris as Frank’s teacher: „From Morris, Frank learns what it means to have a good heart, to be honest.“

4.2.1.2 Formal Jewishness or Pseudo-Jewishness

On the one hand as we have seen, there is Morris Bober with his high moral standards, whose values are to be right, honest and good. But on the other hand there are other Jewish families with different values. While Morris Bober is ruled by kindness, compassion and humanity, they are not; and while he cannot abandon himself to single-minded money grubbing – and therefore he has difficulty in surviving in the modern economic culture – they can.
In the following paragraph the three Jewish families of the neighbourhood will be presented and compared. There are the Pearls, the Karps and the Bobers who once had equal presuppositions. They all had small shops in the same poor neighbourhood.
Sam Pearl is the owner of a shop just near the Bobers’. There is not very much said about the shop itself, but its owner is completely different to Morris Bober.
„Sam, always sociable, a former cabbie, bulky, wearing bi-focals and chewing gum [...] Most over the day he sat hunched over dope sheets spread out on the soda fountain counter, smoking as he chewed gum, making smearing marks with a pencil stub under horses’ names. He neglected the store.“
Although Sam Pearl does not seem to care about business he manages to earn enough money.
„[His wife] did not much complain, because Sam’s luck with the nags was exceptional and he had nicely supported Nat in college until the scholarships started rolling in.“
Sam Pearl does not at all follow what Morris Bober calls the Jewish Law. He does not work hard and the way he earns his daily bread cannot be called honest, nor right, nor good, but rather obscure. In a materialistic way Sam Pearl can be called successful, because he does not live in poverty, as Morris Bober does. Although following the Jewish rites, he violates the law of not participating in games with money.
The second Jewish family which also lives in this downrun New York neighbourhood is the Karp family. None of the neighbours did well for a long time and they were even too poor to move away until the Karps had an idea:
„Karp, who with a shoe store that barely made him living, got the brillant idea after Prohibition gurgled down the drain and liquor licences were offered to the public, to borrow cash from a white-bearded rich uncle and put in for one. […] Within a short time after cheap shoes had become expensive bottles, in spite of the poor neighbourhood – or maybe because of it, Helen supposed – he became astonishingly successful and retired his overweight wife from a meagre railroad flat above the store to a big house on the Parkway […] the house complete with two-car garage and Mercury."
Like the Pearls, the Karps also did well. While Mister Pearl earns his living with bets the Karps had the idea to sell liquor after the long period of the Prohibition. As Helen Bober says, not in spite of but maybe because of the poor neighbourhood did the Karps get rich. It is less Karps luck, but his selfishness which makes him rich. Alcoholism is often a social phenomenon of lower social classes. It is therefore especially dishonest to open a liquor shop in such a surrounding. In Morris Bober’s eyes it is very bad to do so. Morris Bober says in one of the episodes I have already quoted that man should do what is right, to be honest, to be good. Life was hard enough. One should be the best, not only for himself. Finally you can say that in Morris Bober’s eyes his two neighbours behave very negatively – they are not as honest as he  is.
Morris Bober behaves completely differently. He does what he believes to be right and honest.
„The grocer, on the other hand, had never altered his fortune, unless degrees of poverty meant alternation, for luck and for he were, if not natural enemies, not good friends. He laboured long hours, was the soul of honesty – he could not escape his honesty, it was bedrock; to cheat would cause an explosion in him, yet he trusted cheaters – coveted nobody’s nothing and always got poorer.“
As described here, he is one of the best souls in the world and free of all evil. He never cheats and is always honest, right and good, because it is exactly how he believes real Jewishness should be.

 


 

 

 

    


 

 

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