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The Chosen | Symbols

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Silence

Silence echoes throughout The Chosen. It replaces warmth and conversation in the Saunders household. For Danny, the silence is normal, though painful. It symbolizes his father's greatness; surely such a great man has reasons for his actions. While he pushes back against the intellectual confines of the sect to which he was born, he never pushes against the silence—except with Reuven. Although the silence represents his father, Danny, complicit in his own oppression, respects and admires his father. The silence symbolizes Danny's complicity, as well. At the end of the novel, when Danny says he can hear the silence, he has in fact internalized his father's view of the world and human suffering.

For Reuven, the silence symbolizes fear and loneliness. He cannot conceive of a life in which his father does not speak to him. When he is alone during his father's illness, it is the silence that makes him most uncomfortable. He calls it "dark silence," mixing the auditory with the visual; it engulfs all of his senses, and thus, all of him.

Reb Saunders sees his silence as symbolic of his love for God and his son. He is protecting Danny's soul through silence, creating a tzaddik for the world. Words are distractions; they take away from devotion to God. They can be false. Silence is truthful; in it he says, you can hear the suffering of all the world.

For David Malter, the silence represents a choice. While he disagrees with Reb Saunders's method of child-rearing, he says that a man has the right to raise his child any way he chooses. When David Malter chooses to withhold information from his son, he does so with silence; he cuts off the conversation or closes the door. He chooses silence when it suits him.

Baseball and Softball

Baseball—or more accurately, softball—is the symbol in the book that sets it firmly on American soil. Baseball is the quintessential American sport and one that has had its fair share of Jewish players. Reuven says the yeshiva boys play to show the gentile world that despite their long hours of study, they are physically fit. For the boys, baseball is an "unquestioned mark" of their Americanism. They prize a victory in softball only a bit less than a top grade in Talmud. During wartime, the significance of an American game played by American students is particularly important.

Baseball is a game understood by the boys, who are American, but not necessarily by their fathers or teachers, who are immigrants. Reuven's softball team is coached by a public school teacher, not by one of his own teachers. Mr. Galanter is uncomfortable in a skull cap; it is fitting that he, an American, coach the game. He speaks in war metaphors, inextricably mixing patriotism with play.

David Malter, an immigrant from Russia, affectionately calls Reuven, "my baseball player." He is acknowledging that his son, an American, is free to play baseball. In this way, Reuven is differentiated from his father. David, by claiming baseball for his son, is claiming all that America has to offer. Here, Reuven can become a mathematician without turning his back on his heritage. More than once, the fact that Danny lives in America, where the only limitations on what he reads and studies are set forth by his father, is acknowledged in the narrative.

Interestingly, with all the talk of baseball and baseball players, it is actually softball the boys play. The pitch is underhand and the game is often played by older men and girls, but the rules are similar. The games look very much a like; softball is simply a variant of baseball. David Malter reinforces his lack of knowledge of American culture when he calls his son, "my baseball player." It is both incorrect and endearing. He is proud of his son for playing the American game; he just doesn't get the game right.

Eyes

Eyes, sight, and vision figure prominently in The Chosen. From Danny nearly blinding Reuven in the first chapter, to his own reliance on glasses as the narrative continues, Potok uses vision both literally and figuratively. Sight is used by Potok to symbolize intellectual growth and knowledge. Text is a key element of Judaism to both Reuven and Danny. For them, to see and to read are nearly indistinguishable. When Danny reads a particularly interesting secular text or argues a fine point in the Talmud, his eyes are described as bright. When he is unhappy, his eyes are dull.

As Danny struggles with his identity and his place in his community, his eyes begin to weaken. It is the habit of reading Freud—whom Potok says runs counter to Western religions, yet has much of value to say about the world—that causes this eyestrain. The doctors can find nothing wrong; it is the internal trauma that causes his neuroses. It is, in fact, a perfect Freudian manifestation of his struggle.

For Reuven, who had never given much thought to his eyes before, the removal of his bandages is epiphanous. He notices the flowers and the sunlight for the first time. He is so grateful for the opportunity to read and write that his final exams are enjoyable. He relays the experience to his father; it is as if he is seeing for the first time. His "reawakening" is contemporaneous with his birth of his friendship with Danny. Friendship allows him to see and act upon the world differently.

Upon meeting Danny at the library for the first time, Reuven notices the murals on the walls. It is the eyes that he notices particularly. Homer's blindness is evident to him for the first time and it is his lack of sight that resonates for Reuven. The humanity present in Homer is presaged by Reuven's encounters with the other residents of the eye ward at Brooklyn Memorial Hospital. These patients also serve to reinforce the resonance of sight and seeing. Reuven is heartsick at the idea of Billy losing his sight forever and at Mr. Savo's loss of an eye after playing with Mickey. Their goodness and suffering are important; as the only gentile characters in the book, they humanize others' life experiences for Reuven. According to David Malter, life is over in "the blink of an eye." However, it is the eye that blinks that matters. Potok uses the eye to symbolize all of life; it is short, but the one who lives can make it significant.

Questions for Symbols

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