The Chosen | Study Guide

Chaim Potok

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The Chosen | Book 2, Chapter 9 | Summary

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Summary

It is Monday, and a little over two weeks have passed since Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders met on the baseball field. Reuven goes back to Dr. Snydman and is told that his eye has healed well. David Malter is misty-eyed at the news. It is exam week and Reuven throws himself into his work. He is so excited to be reading and holding a pen again that the exams are a pleasure.

Danny and Reuven do not see each other during the week. They speak on the phone on Wednesday evening, and Danny sounds sad. The boys make plans for Shabbat. Reuven finishes his exams on Friday, and the school year ends.

Reuven has been so busy with his exams that he is not caught up on war news. A terrible storm slowed down the Allied invasion, but it is progressing again.

Reuven decides to call Billy Merrit, and reaches his father. Roger Merrit tells him that Billy was transferred to Albany. Billy's operation was unsuccessful and Billy is still blind. This sobers Reuven up. He promises Mr. Merrit he will take care of his eyes.

Reuven notices a spiderweb on the porch. A fly is struggling to get free. As it struggles, the fly's wings get more caught up. Reuven blows on the web to try to free the fly. When it doesn't work, he tries again. The web unravels and the fly drops to the porch. It rights itself and flies away.

Analysis

Reuven Malter is quite struck by the news that Billy Merrit's operation has not been a success. He had been counting on Dr. Snydman to fix Billy's eyes. The news, coming so soon after his own happy news, foreshadows a discussion about God's will that Reuven will have with his father many years later.

Danny Saunders and Reuven speak, and Reuven cannot determine why Danny is sad. Their relationship is still rather new, but they are clearly close enough to chat on the phone. In 1944 there would be only one telephone in a house, and not much privacy would be granted in its use. The call itself transmits their increasing intimacy.

Reuven spends a good deal of time watching the spider and the fly and trying to protect the fly. In an otherwise sparse chapter, Chaim Potok spends a good amount of space describing Reuven's interactions with the web. This gives the spider and the fly symbolic significance.

At first, Reuven's attempts to free the fly fail, and the fly becomes more entangled in the web. Finally, on his second try, he is able to free the fly. The fly is reminiscent of the ants on a log that Danny describes when he visits Reuven in the hospital. At the time, Danny was reading Hemingway and very taken with a passage about ants crawling up a burning log. The hero of the passage allows the ants to continue on the log as it burns. Rather than taking the log out of the fire, the hero pours water on it. The steam kills some ants and the rest burn in the fire. Danny is particularly fascinated by the hero's cruelty.

In the fly and spiderweb episode, Potok has Reuven do exactly the opposite of what Hemingway's hero does. He actively works to free the fly. Reuven and his father talk a lot about the cruelty of Danny's upbringing, and here, Reuven has the chance to prove he is not like that; he takes action to free the fly. If the fly symbolizes Danny, then the spider must be Reb Saunders, and the web, Reb Saunders's expectations for Danny. What Reuven does not take into account when freeing the fly is that if he frees it, the spider will suffer.

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