by Chaim Potok
Analysis: Narrator Point of View
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
First Person (Peripheral Narrator): Reuven Malter
Reuven Malter tells us a compelling story that begins in June 1944, when he’s fifteen, and ends in September 1949, when he’s graduated from college. He tells the story in the past tense, which means that it’s a narrative memory – something important from his past that he wants to remember and preserve by telling it.
The Chosen, like most novels, contains many stories – the story of David Malter, the story of Reb Saunders, the story of World War II, and the story of the Jewish people. But the story that most interests Reuven, and the story that drives much of the action of the novel, is the story of Danny Saunders’s journey towards personal freedom. Reuven’s shattered glasses and near-brush with blindness open him up to a new way of looking at the world. This new perspective makes it possible for him to choose to accept Danny’s invitation of friendship. As a result, he enters into a deep and intense relationship, the likes of which he didn’t even know he was missing.
From the first line of the novel to the last, Danny dominates the story. Even when Danny isn’t actually in a scene, Reuven is thinking about him or talking about him. Interestingly, the choices Reuven makes in the novel – telling Reb Saunders what Danny is reading, agreeing to meet with Reb Saunders on Passover, just to name a few – greatly contribute to Danny’s achieving his freedom at the end of the novel. Even more interesting, throughout the novel, Reuven claims that he doesn’t really understand Danny. He understands that he is suffering and struggling, and he understands (most of the time) what needs to be done to help Danny. He loves Danny deeply, but can’t quite step inside his shoes. This suggests that we have to go beyond Reuven to understand his characters.
(If this talk leaves you hungering for more, check out "POV/Narrative Voice" in our guide to Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. It’s likely that Farewell’s narrator, Frederick Henry, was a model for Reuven Malter – though the two narrators have some huge differences. The reason we think this is because early in the novel, Danny describes a crucial scene from Farewell to Reuven, which we talk about the scene in Fredrick’s "Character Analysis" under "Ants on a Log and The Failed Messiah." Danny’s description, which we talk about in his "Character Analysis" leads Reuven to perform a seemingly simple, but quite significant act later in the novel — as we, of course, discuss in his "Character Analysis.")