Study Guide

The Golem/Chava in The Golem and the Jinni

By Helene Wecker

The Golem/Chava

Golem, Golem, Golem, He Made Her Out of Clay…

This book is called The Golem and the Jinni, so, obviously, the Golem is one of the main characters. (Just like a mockingbird is one of the main characters in To Kill a Mockingbird, right?) We get to see her birth, by which we mean we get to see her made, since golems are made, not born. A golem is a creature made out of clay, designed to serve a specific purpose. This golem—the Golem—is made to be a wife, and here are her characteristics. She's:

  • obedient, since "That's what a golem is—a slave to your will" (1.39);
  • curious (1.41);
  • intelligent (1.41);
  • proper—"A gentleman's wife" (1.41);
  • possesses the strength of a dozen men (1.43);
  • and "She'll protect you without thinking, and she'll harm others to do it. […] You must be prepared to destroy her" (1.43).

That's some intense stuff, right? It's a strange mix of archaic feminine submission and superhuman strength. There's no way that can go wrong, can it? Just kidding—of course it goes wrong. But not how you probably expect. See, the Golem's master dies at sea, and she ends up in New York City by herself. This leads to two different conflicts—the external conflict of being an outsider in a brand new city, and the internal conflict between what she was made to be, and what she wants to become.

And When She's Finished Drying…

The Golem's story is kind of a coming-of-age story, although there isn't really an "of age" for a Golem (and she's only about a year old by the time the book is over). But she goes through all the same steps—finding herself, learning her talents, making mistakes, facing the consequences, and being a wee bit suicidal and self-destructive along the way.

She's helped early on by the kind Rabbi Meyer, who acts as a mentor figure to her. She's kind of telepathic, and without a master, she can sense the thoughts of others. The Rabbi cautions her to not take their thoughts too seriously: "You'll need to learn to judge people by their actions, not their thoughts" (3.63), he advises. After all, people don't always act on their thoughts.

He also helps her learn that she's good at sewing and baking (he gives her a cookbook, turning her into a 19th century Martha Stewart). But being busy isn't enough and she can't escape her basic golem nature of wanting to help and serve, so he helps her get a job at a bakery where she can do that, and get paid.

When the Rabbi dies, the Golem's left to her own devices for a while. Thankfully, she ends up fitting in well in New York—she can speak every language—but her own supernatural powers are baffling even to her. She's never met another golem, so much as she finds her way in the city, she struggles to find her way within herself. When the Golem learns that her wounds regenerate, she starts cutting herself to test her limits: "What in the world was she doing? […] Would she slice off her own arm out of boredom?" (13.46).

This scene illustrates one of her weaknesses: impulse control. When she meets the Jinni, she's wary, but eventually he helps her be a little more spontaneous—you know, go dancing, run through the streets. His recklessness is a good compliment to her caution, and vice versa. The Jinni teaches her about freedom, and she teaches the Jinni about control.

With Golem He Will… Ew

The Golem might not be the best person to ask about control, though. When having a discussion about masters (the Golem is pro-master, the Jinni is anti-master), the Golem says that she definitely doesn't want a master who will order her to hurt someone else. "I may never hurt another person. Never. I'll destroy myself first, if I have to" (17.54), she says. Which is perhaps control to the extreme.

And, of course, despite her good intentions, we (and the Golem) find out that she'll destroy people on her own if her friends are in danger, no master required. She almost kills Irving, Anna's boyfriend, when she catches him abusing her. She can't control her own strength, and she feels guilty about it, saying, "I forgot my caution, and this is the result" (19.22). The Jinni saves her from destroying herself, but she is still wracked with guilt, which only gets compounded when she later attacks Saleh.

So it's difficult to say if the Golem is better off with a master or without. We guess it depends on the master. Also, we have to go back to the fact that the Golem was made for Otto Rotfeld, an "arrogant, feckless" (1.2) sort of man, to be his wife. If we're being blunt, the Golem initially exists as a glorified 19th century sex doll. Think Lars and the Real Girl meets Gangs of New York. So can she ever be an independent being? Talk amongst yourselves.