Is it better to go it alone than pretend you're someone you aren't, or is one truly the loneliest number that you'll ever do? In My Name Is Asher Lev, the theme of individuality is explored in great depth. Asher's main struggle (much like the struggle of anyone growing up anywhere) is how to do his own thing without sacrificing the close relationships he's developed with others in his community. In Asher's case, his individuality puts him at risk for losing some of the relationships he really counts on.
My Name Is Asher Lev is about the tensions that arise between a unique individual and the community he's growing up in.
We learn through the story of Asher's life—and his struggle to balance his art with his religion— that no one can be defined by a single label.
There's strength in numbers, right? For Hasidic Jews, community is everything: orthodox religious practices are highly unique and can be both isolating (especially since people outside the orthodox community don't tend to know about them) and empowering because they bond a group of otherwise fairly different people together. Asher's artistic talent singles him out in his community, forcing him into the spotlight and then into exile. This loss of community changes Asher's life permanently. At the same time, his inclusion in the artistic community proves both a boon and a very stressful burden to bear.
For Asher, the community in which he grows up both defines his art and prevents him from practicing it fully.
Asher Lev's story shows us that, in seeking to protect its members, the Ladover Hasidic community ends up squelching their individuality.
Creativity is a pretty big deal in this book because it's basically what makes Asher Lev so unique. He's creative, innovative, and single-minded where others aren't, and that rubs a bunch of people the wrong way. Another item-of-note on the topic of creativity is that it sometimes governs Asher's life more than he would like it to.
In My Name Is Asher Lev, creativity is both a source of frustration and empowerment for the protagonist.
It could be argued that, based on what Chaim Potok shows us with Asher, it is more difficult to be creative than it is to not be creative.
Religion is a really huge deal in this book. Perhaps the hugest deal. And that's because Asher Lev is a member of a community of Orthodox Hasidism who don't take kindly to painting, acting out, or anything that's considered less-than-religious. Asher is constantly butting heads with his own religion, and this head-butting comprises the major tension in the book. How do you solve a problem like Asher Lev? Maybe his Rabbi could have taken some pointers from The Sound of Music.
Asher's religious background is the inspiration for his paintings Brooklyn Crucifixion I and II, the very paintings that lead to him being excommunicated from his religious community.
It can be argued that the Jewish religion is another character in Chaim Potok's My Name Is Asher Lev.
It's all in the family, as they say. And in this case, it really is: religion, art, and love tend to feed the feuding-fire in the Lev household. Asher loves his parents dearly and feels he's betraying them by becoming an artist. At the same time, he can't stop becoming an artist, since it's in his blood. Family is the root of almost all conflict in this story, so you know it's a pretty important theme.
Families are an important part of the Hasidic community in Chaim Potok's book: without them, the Orthodox Judaism could not survive and thrive as depicted here.
Asher's love of his family is simultaneously helpful and detrimental to his career as an artist.
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes! Asher Lev is always confronting his past—and the Jewish people's past—and facing those strange changes David Bowie once sang about. The history of the Jewish people is invoked on every other page, and the Lev family history looms large as well. Combined, these two things make Asher more than a little neurotic while moving towards his future.
Asher Lev's preoccupation with his own past mirrors Aryeh Lev's preoccupation with Asher's present and future.
In My Name Is Asher Lev, the Ladover Hasidic community structures itself around memories of the past, and plans its future accordingly.
Representation and objects: lots of stuff going on there, lots of potential for misunderstanding. All paintings are representations of something, whether it's an emotion or just a bowl of pears sitting on a table. In this book, there is a lot of debate about how the world is and how it should be. Asher tries to represent things as he sees them instead of as they really are: he paints his mother on a crucifix and his classmates in the underworld. Naturally, Asher's representations don't exactly go over well with the people who don't share his view of the world.
In his paintings, Asher Lev often struggles to distinguish between representing things as they are and representing things as he sees them.
My Name Is Asher Lev shows us that imagination can be a very powerful but also very damaging thing.
Learning: it's not always an easy matter. Asher's education is important in this book because he comes from a pretty bookish family, and they come from a line of famous Jewish European scholars. Asher, however, ends up getting his education in painting. Controversy abounds. Just wait 'til you see the headlines.
In My Name Is Asher Lev, the title character learns more outside his yeshiva than he does inside.
Asher's mentor, Jacob Kahn, proves to be such a capable teacher that he is eventually succeeded in ability by his student.