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Tevye the Dairyman

Tevye the Dairyman

by Sholem Aleichem

Power Theme

Tevye's way with words is nothing against the big iron fist of Russian Imperial power that's about to slam down on his village. Although a lot of Tevye the Dairyman is taken up with minor jockeying for position—Tevye with the various potential matches for his daughters, with other dairy suppliers, with his customers, with God—in reality, the true raw power in the book comes late, in the form of official anti-Semitic government policy. This isn't really even a contest, since Tevye has no way to resist being dispossessed and forcibly removed from his village except a vague hope that maybe in the future there will be a somewhere for him to go.

Questions About Power

  1. How does the book present those in positions of official authority—the priest, say, or the mayor? Does this presentation give us a hint of what is to come from the government? Or do we sympathize with them?
  2. As the book continues, there's more evidence that the pogrom are coming closer and closer to our protagonists. Why isn't this info highlighted in some way? Is Tevye in denial about it? Is he prevented from seeing what's coming by assuming that someone who is as good a neighbor as he is will be okay?
  3. Who is the most powerful of the daughters? The least powerful? Would Tevye have a different answer?

Chew on This

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

Tevye refuses to recognize how much power he has over the events of his life because it is easier to just be passive and blame everything on God.

Sholem Aleichem would disagree with Tevye that those who are able to hide their emotions seem the most powerful, strongest people.

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