Literature Study GuidesThe ChosenBook 3 Chapter 17 Summary

The Chosen | Study Guide

Chaim Potok

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The Chosen | Book 3, Chapter 17 | Summary

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Summary

Danny Saunders and Reuven Malter begin their last year of college. Reuven tells Danny a mildly anti-Hasid story that he heard recently, and Danny laughs aloud. Then Reuven repeats, unthinkingly, a remark he heard. He says, "The tzaddik sits in absolute silence ... and all his followers listen attentively." Reuven is immediately horrified by what he has said. Danny tells him there is truth to the statement, saying, "You can listen to silence." He continues, "Sometimes it cries, and you can hear the pain of the world in it." Danny cannot explain it so that Reuven understands. Danny still does not talk with his father.

Changing the subject, Reuven tells Danny to date. He is going out with girls on Saturday nights and enjoying it. Danny tells Reuven that he, like his sister, is promised to the daughter of a follower of his father. This makes it harder for him to tell his father that he will not become the tzaddik.

In late October, Levi Saunders has his bar mitzvah (a coming-of-age celebration for Jewish boys). It is a subdued event, early enough one Monday morning that Reuven and Danny can get to school on time after the celebration. Reuven has not seen Reb Saunders since July, and once again Reb asks him why he doesn't come anymore. Reuven again explains that he studies with his father on Shabbat. Levi, always sickly, will depend on pills his entire life, but there is something about his eyes that tells "of the tenacity with which he clung to life." On the day after his bar mitzvah, Levi becomes violently ill and is taken by ambulance to Brooklyn Memorial Hospital.

Danny calls Reuven to tell him of Levi's illness, and Reuven can tell Danny is panicked. He doesn't want Reuven to come over; his mother is hysterical and he must stay with her.

Reuven is distracted and upset during mealtime. David Malter, hearing the tone of Reuven's voice earlier on the phone, asks him what happened. Levi has been sick before and Reuven has never taken it so personally. Reuven tells his father of Danny's plan to leave the dynasty and make Levi the tzaddik.

David is troubled by this but not surprised. He is surprised that Reuven has kept this from him for so long. He asks if Danny is going to abandon Judaism. He says that Danny can't practice psychology while looking like a Hasid. He tells Reuven that Danny must be able to anticipate Reb's questions and plan very carefully what he will say. He describes Danny as a prisoner being let out of jail; Danny is so focused on escape that he has not considered what comes next. He exhorts Reuven to talk to Danny about all of this. David says to Reuven, "It is not so easy to be friend, is it, Reuven?" He asks if Danny and Reb talk yet.

Reuven asks his father, "What does it mean to hear silence, abba?" This upsets David tremendously; he mutters "Hasidim," under his breath. He goes on to ask, contemptuously, "Why must they feel the burden of the world is only on their shoulders?" He tells Reuven that silence is a way of bringing up children practiced by a few families in European Hasidism. He doesn't understand it and can't explain it—won't explain it—but does say, "There are better ways to teach a child compassion." There is no more talk; David once again exhorts Reuven to talk to Danny and then leaves.

The next day, Danny is so distraught over his brother that Reuven does not speak to him. Levi stays in the hospital for a week, and Danny is miserable. When Levi finally returns home, Danny's mother is put to bed with high blood pressure. At lunch, Danny tells Reuven he is applying to Harvard, Berkeley, and Columbia. Reuven asks him how long he can keep his secret and urges him to think it through and tell his father. Danny is sick of the silence, and sick of the explosions, and does not want to see his father explode. Reuven tells him what his father said about the situation. While Danny is upset that Reuven broke his confidence, Reuven presses on. Danny says he intends to remain Orthodox, but will not wear the beard and caftan while practicing psychology. Suddenly, Reuven realizes that Reb will see the letters from the universities. Danny is terrified; he hasn't thought of that. Reuven suggests talking to David Malter.

Danny goes to Reuven's house that night. He speaks with David, who has some practice, he says, keeping secrets. They discuss the difficulty Danny will encounter, particularly because there is another family involved—the family of the girl Danny is supposed to marry.

David asks Danny if he can hear silence. He asks Danny if he understands his father's methods. Danny does not. David tells Danny that Reb will explain it because he will want Danny to continue the tradition. Reuven asks his father about hearing silence, but David goes into his study and closes the door.

Danny is accepted to all three schools. The acceptance letters come in the mail and remain untouched until he returns from school. Danny and Reuven are both terrified, knowing that Reb has seen the letters and is saying nothing.

Danny's sister announces that she is pregnant, and Danny's parents are overjoyed. Still, Reb has said nothing. Danny invites Reuven over for Shabbat, but Reuven refuses and tells Danny he should just tell his father. Danny is afraid he will be kicked out of his house. Danny's father asks again for Reuven, but he does not try very hard to get there. Danny decides to go to Columbia.

Weeks pass and spring is approaching. Danny once again asks Reuven to come over; his father is asking for him. He asks Reuven to come on the first day of Passover. Reuven mentions this to his father who, surprisingly to Reuven, is angry that Reuven has ignored Reb's requests. David says that if someone wishes to speak with you, you must let him. David makes Reuven see that Reb needs him to talk about Danny. Reuven doesn't get why Reb didn't just tell him he wants to talk to him. David says, "Reuven, he did tell you. You have not been listening." David is angry, as angry as he was when Reuven refused to speak to Danny at the hospital.

Reuven calls Danny and tells him he will be over on Sunday. Danny senses his anxiety and wants to know what's wrong. Reuven tells him, "Nothing's wrong," and they hang up.

Analysis

Chapter 17 sets up the climax of the novel that will take place in Chapter 18. Reb Saunders is increasingly anxious to see Reuven Malter, and Danny Saunders is feeling increasingly fearful. Something must happen to alleviate the pressure.

In the opening of the chapter, Danny suggests to Reuven that in silence, a person who is listening can hear the suffering of the world. This foreshadows Reb's climactic speech. In looking inward, one can understand the world. This is also a Freudian construct, as neuroses follow trauma, and only by unburying it can the neuroses be cured. In analysis, however, the unburying, or looking inward, is done through talk. For Danny, it is done through silence.

Danny's engagement adds a layer of complication to Danny's extrication from his family's dynastic tradition. The girl, like Danny's sister and mother, remains nameless. It is difficult for Reuven to empathize with her, as she is never given any human characteristics. Women barely exist in The Chosen. Danny's sister, however, does serve to alleviate tension. When Reb initially explodes about Zionism, it is Danny's sister who calms him down, cajoles him into believing that Reuven was just repeating something he had heard. When she announces her pregnancy, some pressure is relieved; Danny gets a bit of a respite—it is the first time he has seen his parents happy for a long time.

David Malter's empathy for Reb and for Danny are apparent in this chapter. That the people who hurt his son so badly are deserving of both his sympathy and empathy speaks to his character. He has told Reuven to be a friend and friendship is hard; there is no shying away from friendship because it is difficult. For David, the bond is sacred. He lets Reuven know this early in the narrative, and reinforces it here.

Reuven's lack of understanding of Reb's motives are foreshadowed in earlier chapters. He may be deliberately obtuse, but once he realizes Reb wants to talk to Danny through him, he is devastated that he has lost so much time.

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