Themes are literary tools used by authors to enhance their writings. When a similar theme exists in two different novels, parallels can often be drawn between the characters and structures of literary work. Such is the case for Bernard Malamud?s The Assistant and Chaim Potok?s The Chosen. Religion plays a major role in the shaping of both novels. Both books begin with the respective religious outcast (Frank and Rueven) befriending the respective character (Morris and Danny) as a result of an act of malice. The characters Ida and Reb Saunders from The Assistant and The Chosen respectively have similar reactions to their child?s involvement with this outcast. Thus, a definite parallel is evident between the general flow of both novels as a result of the religion theme.
The Assistant, set in Brooklyn during the 1940?s, opens with a robbery. Frank Alpine, a non-Jew who constantly found himself doing the wrong thing, was one of the men involved in the crime. Frank and his partner Ward robbed the grocery store of Morris Bober. Morris, a poor Jewish family man, had a mere $15 to offer them from his cash register. Ward reacted violently to this news by striking Morris on his head. Frank felt responsible for Morris? suffering and was overcome with guilt. To exonerate his conscience, he befriended Morris and started to work for him at the store.
In comparison to The Assistant, The Chosen also began during the 1940?s in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. The opening scene is set at a softball game between two Jewish parochial schools. Hatred and determination were embedded in the minds of every player on that field. This was more than just a softball game between two schools. It was the Hasidics versus the traditional Jews. No one was backing down. Rueven Malter pitched the ball to Hasidic Danny Saunders. Danny?s bat connected with the ball and smacked Rueven in the face, eventually landing him in the hospital. Danny soon admits to himself that he fully intended to hit his rival. Similar to Frank?s experience after the robbery, Danny suffers from a guilty conscience. His next action parallels Frank?s decision to work for Morris. Danny visits Rueven in the hospital to apologize for hurting him. Like Frank and Morris, Rueven and Danny soon become friends.
These newly established friendships were eventually defied by a Jewish family member in both novels. In The Assistant, Morris? wife Ida Bober, was bitterly opposed to her husbands friendship with Frank. Ida was a typical Jewish mother who was distrustful of non-Jews. She did not like the idea that Frank, a non-Jewish stranger, was roaming around their store. She also feared any relationship that might develop between Frank and her daughter Helen. Ida did not want her daughter to be dating someone who wasn?t Jewish. She stated several reasons why she wished that Morris would fire Frank. ?The most important is I don?t want him here on account of Helen. I don?t like the way he looks at her.? As the story continues, Ida grows to dislike Frank more and more. Ida needs Frank?s assistance after Morris? death. She can not find it within herself to fully accept him. Perhaps she would have accepted him once she found out that he converted. Malamud does not provide this information.
In The Chosen, a family member also opposes a friendship with a person of a different religious sect. Reb Saunders, Danny?s father is the Tzaddik of the Hasidic community. Initially, Reb accepts his son?s friendship with Rueven. However, when he learns that Rueven?s father is a Zion activist he adamantly opposes any friendship. As a Hasid, Reb Saunders is deeply against the Zionist movement. He doesn?t want his son associating with the son of a Zionist advocate. He forbids Danny from speaking to Rueven throughout most of their college years. Like Ida, Reb allows his religious beliefs to control his opinion of others. He could not handle the idea of people thinking differently from him. It wasn?t until the Zionist movement had significantly died down, and Israel becoming a Jewish state, that Reb Saunders finally allowed his son to resume a friendship with Rueven.
Bernard Malamud?s The Assistant and Chaim Potok?s The Chosen are remarkably similar with respect to topics, characters, and patterns of events. These similarities are indicative of how authors use themes to dictate the flow of the novel. In both cases religion shaped the plot, and guided the actions and emotions of the characters.