Literature Study GuidesThe ChosenBook 2 Chapter 11 Summary

The Chosen | Study Guide

Chaim Potok

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The Chosen | Book 2, Chapter 11 | Summary

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Summary

Danny Saunders and Reuven Malter both go back to school. Reuven is elected president of his class, and the boys only see each other to study the Talmud with Reb Saunders on Shabbat. Although they talk frequently on the phone, they never get around to discussing Freud. On the rare occasion that they do see each other, Danny is fatigued. His eyes are tiring easily. Reuven brings him books on Jewish history that his father suggested. Danny admits he hasn't been reading much Freud; it is too upsetting and he has lots of homework.

News of the war's progress is devastating. The number of American casualties in the Battle of the Bulge, fought between December 1944 and January 1945, is staggering to Reuven and his father. Reuven and Danny still haven't seen each other. On the phone, Danny seems only vaguely aware of the awful war news that is reported daily. Levi Saunders is sick again, and Danny wants to talk to Reuven, but it can wait. By February, the boys have seen each other a few times on Shabbat, but that's all.

By February, the war news becomes more encouraging. By March, even Danny is feeling jubilant at the imminent end of the war. Reuven spends a rare Shabbat with the Saunders and Reb praises God for nearing the end of the war.

Danny gets the flu at the end of March, then bronchitis a few weeks later. Reuven cannot see him; his fever is too high for him to talk on the phone.

In April, President Roosevelt dies of a cerebral hemorrhage. Out on the street, people are silent or crying. Reuven says, "It was like God dying." There is silence in the trolley car. At home, David Malter and Manya have been crying. They all listen to the radio, which is now always on, except on Shabbat.

On Shabbat, the congregation at Reuven's shul clearly shows the pain of death. At home, David breaks into sobs and Reuven feels frightened. In his room, staring at the ceiling, Reuven ponders the uselessness of Roosevelt's death, comparing it to the uselessness of Billy Merrit's blindness. School is closed for the funeral, and Reuven and his father stay glued to the radio.

Reuven agrees to go to the Saunders' home for Shabbat, but by Thursday he is home with a high fever and is sick for 10 days. He has so much work to catch up on that he spends all his spare time doing schoolwork, and uses Shabbat to read. By the first week of May, when Reuven is healthy and caught up enough to see Danny, Reb Saunders and David Malter get sick at the same time. Both men are in bed when the war ends in Europe.

The news of the concentration camps first trickles out and then comes out quite clearly. David, reading an account of Teresienstadt, breaks down and weeps. Reuven cannot grasp the enormity of the number of people killed.

Reuven goes to Danny's house for Shabbat. They do not study the Talmud. Instead, Reb talks of the brutality of the world, of the Jews in Europe, of the people he knows who are likely dead, of Cossacks and their murders. He says, "The world kills us ... Ah, how the world kills us ... It is the will of God. We must accept the will of God."

At home, Reuven tells his father that Reb asked God how he could let this happen. David asks Reuven if God answered. When Reuven remains silent, he asks him again, bitterly, "Did God answer him, Reuven?" Reuven tells his father that Reb believes it is the will of God. David is not satisfied with the answer. He says to Reuven, "We cannot wait for God. If there is an answer, we must make it ourselves."

David tells Reuven that there is only one Jewry left in the world, and it is in America. He says "A madman has destroyed our treasures. If we do not rebuild Jewry in America, we will die as a people."

By the end of May, David recovers enough from his flu to return to teaching. In June, he suffers a massive heart attack and is rushed to the hospital. Reb calls and invites Reuven to live with them.

Analysis

The historical events of this chapter are seminal to understanding both the characters and the plot that follows.

The death of Roosevelt is tremendously important to Reuven Malter; it is as if he has lost a father. He has never imagined Roosevelt could or would die. The concept is alien to him, regardless of the fact that he has seen his father ill, and his mother is dead.

The ongoing parade of sickness demonstrates how bodies can manifest stress physically. Interestingly, flu mortality rates dropped rapidly around the end of World War II.

The fathers are defined by their reactions to the grim news that comes from Europe. Reb Saunders believes the Holocaust is one more example of how Jews are meant to suffer. His brief questioning, his crisis of faith, and asking God why, returns him to his pessimism and isolation. David Malter, trying to make sense of the senseless, takes the news as a call to action. He believes Jews must be the agents of their own change, or they will die out as a people.

Inviting Reuven to stay with them gives Reb dimensionality. From within his sorrow and fatalism, he extends Reuven compassion and love. This foreshadows the end of the novel, when Reb is able to show compassion in the most strenuous and difficult of personal circumstances.

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