by Chaim Potok
Levi is scarcely a character at all. Reuven only tells us that he’s sickly, pale, and constantly picking at his nose and his food. He strikes Reuven as more of a ghost than a young boy. He doesn’t get a single speaking line in the novel. One could certainly argue, and many critics have, that The Chosen’s flat minor characters, especially Levi, keep the novel from being first-rate. We will leave that for you to judge for yourself. In the meantime, let's look at what Levi’s flatness does to the novel.
For one thing, it tells us something about Reuven. Levi’s flatness has a lot to do with the fact that Reuven doesn’t really know him. Reuven is totally obsessed with Danny, the Reb, and his father, and he just doesn’t pay much attention to anyone else.
Reuven's stance towards Levi is almost predatory. He sees Levi only as a solution to Danny’s problem. If Levi can become tzaddik, then Danny doesn’t have to. It’s kind of creepy when Reuven rejoices that Levi is out of the hospital, because we know he only cares about Levi in terms of what he can do for Danny. Danny insists that Levi is a bright and nice kid, but since we know so little about him, we worry a bit for the Reb’s followers, and for Levi himself, when we think of him inheriting his father’s position.
Is Levi a throwaway character, conveniently inserted to allow for a happy ending? Think how much more complicated the novel would be if the Reb didn’t have a second son. Resolution would have been much more difficult to come by. In some ways, we have to agree with the critics. If Levi had been more fully rendered, the novel could be even more moving and complicated than it is. On the other hand, his flatness tells us something interesting about Reuven and the limits of his vision.