Life in Tevye is a family affair. Loyalty to the family, concern about how the family is functioning in the world, and securing the future of family members: these are all way more important concerns than backpacking through Europe to find yourself. Images of family protection are all over the place—the uncle who cancels Shprintze's engagement, Beilke's practical decision to marry the rich dude who can float her sisters. People who reject their family identity—Chava, primarily—are the worst kind of traitors. A comforting source of stability in an unstable world? Sure. Deeply oppressive, even if not quite as oppressive as the Russian government? We'll let you decide that one.
Sholem Aleichem depicts Tevye's sense of family as having more to do with its external appearance to the rest of the world than an internal emotional connection.
In Tevye, the daughters rebel because they have almost no example of what a husband and a wife are like. Golde and Tevye's marriage is barely a relationship at all.
Poor Tevye. He's a woodcutter then a dairyman; he's got seven daughters, then five daughters, and then—when Chava comes back—he's got six again; he's got a home and a family—and then he's got nothing. No wonder it's so hard to get a read on him. Is he just a modern day version of Job? Or is he defined by being a Jew under an oppressive regime? Or is he defined by his struggle between modernity and tradition in the setting of his family? Tevye never answers directly—unless of course we assume that the answer is (d) All of the above.
Tevye is a fundamentally misogynist book, because women in the story are basically interchangeable placeholders.
Rather than undergoing realistic, human, motivated change, Tevye is an unstable character whose opinions and thoughts vary wildly depending on the needs of the plot. He has no definable personality, and just reads a random collection of opposite attitudes.
In Tevye, a big red line (drawn by Tevye of course) separates Tradition with a capital T, which can never be disobeyed or disrespected; and things that are open to interpretation or even change: custom. See? It doesn't even get a capital letter. On the small-time custom side? Marriage practices, old-school values about money being the only indicator of success. On the Tradition side? Anything that takes you out of the Jewish culture and over to the side of the oppressive majority population.
Sholem Aleichem suggests that Tevye's reliance on Biblical quotations provides a sense of permanence and tradition in the face of constant and unpredictable change.
In Tevye, some of the village's traditions exist only in Tevye's mind.
In Tevye the Dairyman, God is just one more person to argue with. And it's also the source of Tevye's most long-lasting and emotional relationship—full of ongoing conversations, deep philosophical contemplation, and even some psychological healing. On the other hand, Tevye is also really into looking like a deeply devout man, impressing everyone with his knowledge of the Torah and the Talmud and cramming as many of his own interpretations of scripture down the throats of everyone he meets as possible. So, which is it? Is religion something you put on with your Sunday (er, Saturday) clothes, or is it something much more essential?
Tevye depicts its protagonist as a modern-day Job, with the oppressive tsarist regime in early 20th-century Russia playing the part of Satan.
Sholem Aleichem suggests that Tevye's disbelief in free will leads to most of the book's catastrophes.
Money makes the world go 'round—until it doesn't. There isn't much of an overall narrative in Tevye the Dairyman, but there is a big shift in the way Tevye thinks about money. He starts off working hand-to-mouth, so of course becoming rich is his favorite daydream. But as he sees two of his daughters being happy with poor husbands, and even more so after another daughter's life is destroyed by a family obsessed with status, Tevye reconsiders his ideas about the importance of having a lot of money. He even ends up counseling his last daughter to avoid marrying for money and instead to hold out for a more love-based relationship. Like, way to show some character growth there, Tevye.
Although at first Tevye is in awe of the rich people around him, by the end of the book he comes to disdain them and what their financial success stands for.
Tevye presents Beilke's decision to marry for money as a positive choice, even though it also seems to approve of Tzeitl and Hodl's decision to marry for love.
Well, Woody Allen got his material from somewhere. Tevye's strongest weapon is his quick wit against whatever horrible things happen in his life, and it's his storytelling ability and his gallows humor about being a victim that get him the immortal life he leads as the protagonist of this book. If he were boring, you can guarantee that the book would not be called Tevye the Dairyman.
Tevye's jokes are actually much too sad to be funny.
Tevye's one-sided conversations with God are just like his one-sided conversations with Sholem Aleichem. They're his only source of emotional relief and the only way he can express his true self to anyone.
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.
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.
No one likes a know-it-all—except Tevye. One of the reasons that Tevye is obsessed with his knowledge of and ability to recall the many samples of midrash that he treats everyone he knows to is that he wants always to look like the smartest, wisest guy in the room. Because he's not the most anything else—not the most successful, not the richest, not the most well-connected—he settles for the superlative "most knowledgeable." The only problem is that Tevye the Dairyman hints that maybe, just maybe, being fixated with appearing wise isn't really the same thing as internalizing and learning from all the midrash that you can quote. Plus, it's really annoying to watch a movie with someone who's just quoting the whole thing.
Tevye willfully misreads situations in which he should have known better (like, say, with Menachem-Mendl, or with Ahronchik's family) because he'd rather be lucky than wise.
Tevye is insecure about his level of knowledge or understanding, and so feels most comfortable in the company of those who cannot talk back to him—God, Sholem Aleichem, or his horse.