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Home Middelbare School EN Uittreksels Uittreksel Chaim Potok – The Chosen

Uittreksel Chaim Potok – The Chosen

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Uittreksels Engelse Literatuur

Chaim Potok – The Chosen

Simon and Schuster, New York (1967)


The Chosen are firstly the Jews, who considered themselves God's Chosen People. Secondly the title refers to Danny, who has been chosen by his father to become the next Rabbi. Danny's father, the present Rabbi, allows his son to be friends with Reuven although he belongs to a different type of Jewish religion. Therefore Reuven can be seen as being chosen also.


Chaim Potok was born on 17 February 1929 in New York City as Herman Harold Potok. He went to orthodox Jewish schools and studied philosophy. In the Vietnam war he served as a United States Army chaplain in Korea from 1955 to 1957. He writes about the Jewish religion, history and culture in a non-Jewish society. The Promise was written in 1969, and is a sequel to The Chosen. He also wrote My name is Asher Lev, In the beginning, The book of lights and Davita's harp. He also writes many articles, short stories and reviews, plays and childrens' books. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and has two daughters and a son. Chaim Potok is an American contemporary post war writer.

The literary period:

The twentieth century – second part (1945 to now).

The genre:

It is a psychological novel which is mostly directed at exploring and explaining characters.


The story starts with a baseball game between an orthodox Jewish school and a Hasidic Jewish school. The Hasidic team plays an extremely aggressive game, and the unofficial leader of the team, Danny Saunders, nearly turns the game into a religious war by suggesting it is a game between true and false Jews. When Reuven takes over the pitching he is filled with rage. Therefore he does not duck when Danny hits the ball very hard, and it hits Reuven in the eye, splintering the glasses he is wearing. Reuven is taken to hospital, and when Danny comes to visit him to apologize, Reuven will not acknowledge him for he still thinks Danny hit him on purpose. Reuven's father advises him to listen to what Danny has to say. They become friends and once out of hospital Reuven visits Danny, where he meets Danny's father who is a Hasidic Rabbi.

Reuven feels sorry when he sees how strictly Danny is being brought up, as one day Danny will succeed his father as a Rabbi. His father does not speak to him, unless it is to study the Talmud together or to test his knowledge in public. Reuven discovers that Danny has a great mind and that he has been going to the library to secretly read books on psychoanalysis that Mr. Malter, Reuven's father, has recommended to him. When Danny's father finds out, he is not angry, merely sad. Reuven and Danny graduate and go to the same college, where Reuven studies mathematics and Danny psychology. Danny starts to question the Hasidic religion more and more and does not know what to decide, struggling between the tradition of his Hasidic upbringing and the scientific modern world.

After the war it is announced that six million Jews have been killed. This is such a shock to Reuven's father that after a few weeks he suffers a heart attack. When it becomes clear to the Rabbi that both Reuven and his father are Zionists (Jews who want Palestine to become the Jewish homeland, something the Rabbi is heavily opposed to) and he forbids Danny and Reuven to be friends. During the next two years the boys see each other at the university without actually meeting. Then the Rabbi realizes that the establishment of Israel is irreversible and he relents. Reuven's father has a second heart attack, and Danny applies for a scholarship with three universities and is accepted by all three. Danny cannot think how to tell his father about his decision to continue to improve his intelligence. Then the Rabbi explains to Reuven, while Danny is present, why he could not talk to his son. As a young boy Danny showed great intelligence but no soul. According to him Danny had to learn to find his soul. Having said this he directs his words straight at Danny and asks him to understand his reasons for being silent for such a long time. Then he asks Reuven for forgiveness for having been angry at his father for his Zionism and he allows his son to study psychology.


The story takes place around the Second World War. The time-lapse is around 5 years.


The story is set in Williamsburg, a part of Brooklyn, New York, where mainly religious Jews live.

Characters and relationships:

Reuven Malter:

An orthodox Jewish boy, fifteen years of age, who lives with his father and whose mother has died. He and his father go to the synagogue every day and he follows The Ten Commandments. He is intelligent, but sometimes he needs the guidance of his wise father. Without knowing it himself he helps his friend Danny in making a very important decision and therefore Danny helps Reuven to see things more clearly as well.

Mr. Malter:

Reuven's father, a journalist who also teaches at the Jeshiva that Reuven visits. He guides his son through

life and teaches him the important values of the Jews. He also helps his son understand his friend Danny

who is from a different religion. When he hears about the Jews that have been murdered in the second World War he becomes a fervent Zionist

Danny Saunders:

He is the son of a Hasidic Rabbi and struggles with the responsibility of having to be the successor to his father. He is highly intelligent and wishes to continue his pursuit of scientific knowledge. His friendship with Reuven and his father helps him to come to a decision which will influence the rest of his life and also the relationship with his father. Although the story is told by Reuven, it really is Danny who is the main character in the novel.

Rabbi Saunders:




The story is about friendship. Although both Reuven and Danny are Jewish there is at the beginning of the story a great antipathy between the boys. We learn how they become good friends and help each other to make the right decisions. It is also about Danny who struggles to make a decision between either upholding the traditions of his religion or entering modern life which will bring him great knowledge and would allow him to use his intelligence to the fullest. There also are Reuven's difficulties in trying to understand Danny and his environment, and his own with his father.


Each book has its own motto.

Book one:

I was a son to my father …

And he taught me and said to me,

"Let your heart hold fast my words…."


Book two:

Silence is good everywhere, except

In connection with Torah

-The Zohar

Book three:

A word is worth one coin; silence is worth two.

-The Talmud

Linguistic usage:

Chaim Potok uses short sentences and a lot of dialogue. By using the dialogues makes clear to the reader what the opinions of the characters are. This can make it more difficult to understand the real meaning of the novel. The story in itself is easy to understand, but the use of many Jewish terms can make it more difficult as well. This does give the reader a detailed insight in the Jewish religion.


To Adena.

When a trout rising to a fly gets hooked on a line and finds himself unable to swim about freely, he begins a fight which results in struggles and splashes and sometimes an escape. Often, of course, the situation is too tough for him.

In the same way the human being struggles with his environment and with the hooks that catch him. Sometimes he masters his difficulties; sometimes they are too much for him. His struggles are all that the world sees and it naturally misunderstands them. It is hard for a free fish to understand what is happening to a hooked one.

Karl A. Menninger

True happiness

Consists not in the multitude of friends

But in the worth and choice

Ben Johnson

To Dr. Israel Charny, Mrs. Jonas Greenfield, Rabbi Raphael Posner, and Dr. Aaron Rosen, all of whom helped with the research, I offer my gratitude.



The story is written in the first person and is narrated by Reuven. Because of this the thoughts of the other main characters are not known and the reader depends on Reuven to interpret their words.


The novel is divided into three books and has eighteen chapters. The second book starts at chapter five, the third book at chapter thirteen.

Own opinion on the book:

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Succesvolle mensen neigen om steeds succesvoller te worden omdat ze altijd aan hun succes denken.

Brian Tracy