Tevye the Dairyman
by Sholem Aleichem
Hodl & Perchik
Next up is Hodl, who sees Tzeitl's little rebellion and raises it. She rejects an arranged match to marry a poor and somewhat mysterious student, who turns out to be a bit player in one of the ongoing revolutionary movements of the time.
Hodl is the cream of Tevye's crop. When he talks about her to Sholem Aleichem, he calls her "a gift from God! She is right here... right here... deep, deep... I cannot begin to say it" (5.153). She's smart, pretty, literate, and probably a comfort to her mother, as well. So it's even sadder than it would otherwise be to see her take off into self-imposed exile at the end of her story.
It's not that Hodl's story is necessarily terrible—or least, we're led to believe that she ends up reasonably happy-ish—but clearly, after seeing Tzeitl's example, Hodl decides to really kick it up a notch. She rejects an arranged marriage, and instead marries radicalized student Perchik, who is clearly not a local kid. Bam! But hey, at least he's still Jewish.
Hodl's marriage makes her a test case for assimilation. In otherwise, she's supposed to help us figure out an answer to one of Tevye's most anxious question: can Jews maintain some of their culture and still be accepted by other parts of the society?
The answer here seems to be not so much. Like a lot of young educated dudes at the time, Perchik is an atheist and a member of a revolutionary circle of some sort, working to free the larger society from the horrible oppression of the absolute monarchy of the tsar.
(The what now? No, worries—Shmoop's got your back here. A monarchy is a government composed of a king/tsar/emperor—some dude (or in some cases, dudette) who inherits power from dear old dad and in turn passes it on to Tsar Jr. An absolute monarchy is where that one guy is the only guy with any power—no advisors, no parliament, just his way or the highway. Well, actually, his way or the execution/exile way.)
So anyway. Perchik and Hodl, freedom fighters. The idea is that these young people are Jews by birth, sure, but they identify as one with their fellow men... but are never actually seen that way by those fellow men.
That's rich irony, considering Perchik, according to Hodl, "'never cares about himself. Everything he does is for the sake of others, for the sake of humanity, especially for those who toil with their hands, the workers'" (5.149). Like Perchik, Hodl is a true believer, talking about the cause with "her face shining and her eyes glowing" (5.106).
Unfortunately, they may have thrown their fate in with the wrong crowd. The very workers she's trying to help are about two seconds away from turning against their Jewish neighbors. What Hodl though was about ideas turns out to be personal. Perchik might have high ideals about "humanity," but he ends up being imprisoned by regular individual humans.
Together, Hodl and Pershik are a good example of the harsh punishments doled out to Jews involved in the socialist movements of the time. And we know something Sholem Aleichem didn't: his prediction would be even more accurate after the revolution finally came. Jews were also the first to suffer when the wave of good feelings imploded. Good times.