Study Guide

The Golem and the Jinni Foreignness and the Other

By Helene Wecker

Foreignness and the Other

Her hair was plastered to her neck. More astonishing was the thick, brackish mud that covered her skirt and shoes. (1.153)

New York City is foreign to the Golem and the Golem is foreign to New Yorkers. Even people who have seen everything aren't used to seeing a woman come out of the ocean as though she just went to get her mail.

Why did everyone need money? And what exactly was money? (3.4)

The concept of money is totally foreign to the Golem, and she just doesn't understand what the point is. Why don't people just make and take what they need?

"Imagine […] that you are asleep, dreaming your human dreams. And then, when you wake, you find yourself in an unknown place. […] And then, a strange creature finds you and says, 'An Arbeely! But I thought Arbeely's were only tales told to children! Quick, you must hide, and pretend to be one of us, for the people here would be frightened of you if they knew.'" (3.107)

The Jinni crafts this brilliant analogy to explain his "otherness" to Arbeely. It's an otherness that all immigrants experience as they try to fit in in a new country, but with the Jinni, the foreign feeling is turned up to the extreme.

Some influence, divine or demonic, had led him to this place, and had placed unutterable mysteries in his hands. (4.101)

Schaalman has dabbled in the dark arts before, but whatever is happening to him now is strange and foreign even to him. Maybe it's just New York City itself that is strange and otherworldly to him.

She was not human, but a living piece of earth. (11.121)

The Golem is foreign even to the Jinni, and vice versa. Maybe that's why they're so drawn to each other: because of the otherness that they're not accustomed to.

"I've never met another golem." "What, none?" "I might be the only one," she said. (14.53)

The Golem is truly an outsider, being the only one of her kind… as far as we can tell so far.

The assailant was described variously as a man, a woman, or, even more strangely, a man dressed in women's clothing. (20.2)

No one knows what to make of the Golem after the attack at the nightclub. The concept of a woman having that kind of strength is foreign to everyone.

[Michael] loved the feeling of [Chava's] skin—always cool somehow, though the days had been sweltering. (21.37)

Michael always seems to suspect in the back of his mind that his wife is somehow different, but he never asks any questions. Maybe because he deals with immigrants every day, he's used to just accepting different things (like foreign cultures) that he doesn't understand.

Also, there were the endless practical dilemmas. The long stretches of lying next to [Michael] in bed, remembering to breath in and out. (21.49)

The Golem tries her best to fit in, as most immigrants do. Except in her case, it's less about not speaking with an accent or following the correct customs and more about basic human acts, like breathing.

"I've never liked that man. Never. I feel like he's fooling us all somehow, laughing when our backs are turned. And I could not for the life of me tell you why." (23.36)

Maryam Faddoul is accepting of everyone, yet something about the Jinni is too foreign for her to accept. Maybe because she's familiar with every single culture that seems to wander through New York, she can see how he doesn't fit into any of them.