Places: The Chosen

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1967

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: 1940’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Brooklyn

*Brooklyn. Chosen, TheLargest of five boroughs of New York City and the setting for the entire novel. The diverse ethnic groups living in Brooklyn’s brownstone row houses include many Jews, such as the novel’s central characters, who live in the borough’s Williamsburg neighborhood.

Malter home

Malter home. Brooklyn home of Reuven Malter, a teenage Orthodox Jew who lives with his widower father, a teacher in a Jewish parochial school and a scholar of Jewish law. The Malters live downstairs in a brownstone house with a tiny yard on Lee Avenue, which is shaded by Sycamore trees; paintings by famous Jewish artists line the walls in their home’s entry hall. Curtained French doors, trimmed with Ionic columns, open into the father’s windowless study, where a yellow desk lamp glows. The senior Malter wears a skullcap and glasses as he sits hunched over a large desk covered by a green blotter and stacks of papers, and writes religious articles. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases line walls of his study, where he and Reuven drink tea and discuss the history of two sects of European Jews. They say prayers and eat the Shabbat meal in the kitchen.

During his recovery from an eye injury in a softball game, Reuven sits on the back porch in a lounge chair and inhales scents of grass and flowers. His room has a bookcase, a narrow bed, a desk covered with papers, and a small radio with a program schedule featuring classical music. Its walls display maps of Europe and pictures of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the scientist Albert Einstein. Reuven’s cat likes to sit on the sill of a window facing an alley.

Saunders Home

Saunders Home. Brooklyn home of Reuven’s new friend, Danny Saunders, a member of a Hasidic Jewish family. His father, Isaac Saunders, is a rabbi who leads a small sect of Hasidic Jews. The three-storied brownstone of the Saunderses serves as residence, synagogue, and counseling office, and the family lives on the second floor. Men in black caftans, black hats, and heavy beards often wait outside.

The large downstairs room in which temple services are conducted contains the Ark, the Eternal Light, and two podiums covered with red velvet. Walls are painted white, and black velvet drapes cover the windows. Light bulbs dangle from the ceiling. Chairs with small tables for scriptures are placed in rows with an aisle down the middle.

A conference room and study occupy the third floor. Here, the senior Saunders discusses Talmud passages with Danny and Reuven. Saunders sits in a red leather chair with carved wooden arms, behind a black desk. Hundreds of musty-smelling leather-bound religious books are shelved in tall bookcases and stacked on chairs and the floor. A quote from the poet John Keats, “Beauty Is Truth, Truth Beauty, That Is All Ye Know on Earth, and All Ye Need to Know,” is etched over the door. Murals on walls in the vestibule portray world-famous religious leaders, scientists, and authors. Here, Danny reads forbidden history and philosophy books, especially Sigmund Freud’s theories.

Samson Raphael Hirsch Seminary and College

Samson Raphael Hirsch Seminary and College. Whitestone school located on Brooklyn’s Bedford Avenue, where both Reuven and Danny study. Facing the seminary from across the street is a Roman Catholic church with a statue of the crucified Christ on its lawn. Both Hasidic and Orthodox Jews attend Hirsch. After they graduate, Danny sheds his Hasidic identity and enrolls at Columbia University to study clinical psychology, while Reuven continues rabbinical studies at Hirsch.

BibliographyAbramson, Edward A. Chaim Potok. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Chapter 2, about The Chosen, discusses the Hasidim and the Orthodox Jewish and non-Jewish worlds, the value of education, fathers and sons, and form and content.Bluefarb, Sam. “The Head, the Heart and the Conflict of Generations in Chaim Potok’s The Chosen.” College Language Association Journal 14 (June, 1971): 402-409. Explores the father-son relationships.Leeper, Faye. “What Is in the Name?” The English Journal 59 (January, 1970): 63-64. Offers answers to the question, “Who or what is chosen in this novel?”Sgan, Arnold D. “The Chosen, The Promise, and My Name is Asher Lev.” The English Journal 66 (March, 1977): 63-64. Offers useful plot summaries and themes for each novel; discusses Potok’s place in high school units on “Ethnic Literature” or “The Search for Identity.”Studies in American Jewish Literature 4 (1985). This issue, entitled “The World of Chaim Potok,” contains various articles, including one by Potok, and an interview with him.
Categories: Places