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Tevye the Dairyman

Tevye the Dairyman


by Sholem Aleichem

Tevye the Dairyman Theme of Language and Communication

Well, Woody Allen got his material from somewhere. Tevye's strongest weapon is his quick wit against whatever horrible things happen in his life, and it's his storytelling ability and his gallows humor about being a victim that get him the immortal life he leads as the protagonist of this book. If he were boring, you can guarantee that the book would not be called Tevye the Dairyman.

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. How much can we trust Tevye as a narrator? Do his stories read like he's telling the whole truth? Is he self-serving? Self-aggrandizing?
  2. There are only a few times when Tevye is at a loss for words—the most significant being after Ahronchik's uncle accuses him of somehow luring Ahronchik in to marry Shprintze and offers to buy him off. Why can't Tevye throw out some kind of comeback here like usual? Is there a specific kind of insult that shuts him down like this?
  3. Lots of the book's jokes are based around verbal misunderstandings (most famously, that scene between Tevye and Lazer-Wolf where one thinks he's talking about a cow and the other about Tzeitl). Why is this a source of so much humor? Do the various misunderstandings tell us something about Tevye's world?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Tevye's jokes are actually much too sad to be funny.

Tevye's one-sided conversations with God are just like his one-sided conversations with Sholem Aleichem. They're his only source of emotional relief and the only way he can express his true self to anyone.

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