Study Guide

Tevye the Dairyman Hodl

By Sholem Aleichem


  • Golde is always on Tevye's case about the fact that they have a whole bunch of daughters to marry off, which is a suspiciously common literary problem.
  • (Fun Sholem Aleichem fact: the number of daughters keeps shifting around from story to story—probs 'cause he was writing these stories pretty far apart from one another and just forgot. In this one, it's seven.)
  • So, yeah, now that Tzeitl is gone, the next oldest daughter is Hodl, who is totes cute and also smart and even literate. This is pretty impressive for that time and place (and, come on, is still pretty impressive today).
  • In this story, we're going to find out how she learned to read so good.
  • Flashback to not too long ago.
  • Tevye runs into Perchik, the son of the local cigarette-maker who is trying to make something of himself by taking classes in Yehupetz. Naturally, he's dirt poor.
  • Perchik (hey, heads up for a tiny brain snack: his name means "small pepper" in Russian) and Tevye have a big discussion where it's revealed that Perchik really has it in for the Russian 1%.
  • In hindsight (hint: the Russian Revolution), we can now safely peg Perchik as a socialist/Marxist kinda guy.
  • To Tevye, he seems like a really great dude who is super-idealistic and just wants everyone to be equal and not exploited. Basically, your average liberal-arts undergraduate.
  • Tevye digs his intellectual vibe and invites him home, where he becomes a part of the family. The only weird thing about him is that every now and again he goes off somewhere and won't tell anyone what he's doing. (We're going to go with: meeting up with likeminded revolutionary dudes.)
  • After a while, Perchik drops a few hints about Hodl (um, duh, look at the story title), but Tevye is either playing dumb or actually dumb, at least when it comes to his daughters.
  • Meanwhile, Tevye is approached by a matchmaker who is ready to hook Hodl up with a husband who is totally awesome if you overlook the fact that he is about a bazillion years old.
  • Ew.
  • Well, with seven daughters to marry off, you can't be too picky. Tevye thinks it's worth checking out and prepares to head into town to meet this guy.
  • Just then, he stumbles across Hodl and Perchik coming out of the forest together.
  • Hodl and Perchik, sittin' in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g. First comes love, and now, Tevye finds out, comes the secret engagement.
  • They don't want money or a dowry—just a wedding, and stat. Why the rush? Perchik is about to go away somewhere.
  • Ooooh, mysterious.
  • So, they get their bride and groom thing on, and then Perchik takes off. Tevye is so undisturbed by this shady behavior that he even takes him to the train station, where he catches a glimpse of some of the other guys involved in whatever Perchik is planning.
  • After Perchik leaves, Hodl doesn't hear from him for weeks and weeks. She still refuses to tell the family what on earth he is up to.
  • One day, she gets a letter. She finally breaks down to say that Perchik is in prison, and is about to be shipped "elsewhere."
  • (Shmoop educated guess number three—"elsewhere" sounds a lot like "Siberia," where most of the tsar's other political prisoners end up.)
  • Hodl still won't say what he's accused of doing. All she says is that Perchik is a selfless guy who just cares about the wellbeing of the world and the people in it.
  • Which, yeah, everyone who deeply believes in something is probably convinced it's for the good of the world.
  • Hodl announces to her father that she's leaving the family so she can join Perchik.
  • Tevye tries to keep it together so he won't "act like a woman" in his words. You know, cry. But his heart is breaking for his daughter. It's actually quite sad and moving.
  • Tevye invents a crazy lie for Golde—that Perchik has an aunt that is going to leave the couple money, but they have to go there for years and years to be near her, or some nonsense.
  • Incidentally—could Golde really be buying Tevye's endless lies? It feels like she's a no-nonsense, super-practical lady who would probably have a pretty good baloney detector.
  • Tevye takes Hodl to the train station. He loses it during their final goodbye and starts weeping.
  • We snap back into the present.
  • Tevye is telling Sholem Aleichem how wonderful Hodl is, when he gets kind of embarrassed at his own tears.
  • He changes the subject to the cholera epidemic in Odessa. You know, something a little happier.