AP English Literature
November 17, 2014
Her Name is Rivkeh Lev In the Hasidic Jewish community, artists are seen as selfish because it is believed that they only act based on their own desires and disregard the needs of those around them. For most of Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev, Asher Lev, a talented young painter, demonstrates little to disprove this belief. It is not until Asher is living alone in Paris as a young adult that he shows his capacity to be empathetic. Asher remembers how his mother would constantly wait at the window in the front of the house waiting for her husband or son to return home. Asher had seen her waiting behind the window many times before, but as he recalls the old memories, he truly understands the suffering his mother went through for the first time. While thinking of his mother’s emotional pain, Asher thinks to himself, “And I could understand her torment now; I could see her waiting endlessly with the fear that someone she loved would be brought to her dead. I could feel her anguish” (Potok 325). Asher finally sees that his mother is always living with the fear of a loved one dying after her brother died in a car accident. The fact that Asher is able to “feel her anguish” shows that he has developed a sense of empathy. Asher’s first true sense of understanding of his mother’s constant suffering is significant because it shows that Asher is undergoing moral growth. Earlier in the novel, Asher recounts:
My mother said to me one day during Succos, “Asher, do you think you could move in with your Uncle Yitzchok if I went with your father to Europe?”
I stared at her and was afraid.
“Your father needs me. I was here when you needed me. Now your father needs me.”
“No. Next year.”
“I don’t want to live a whole year with Uncle Yitzchok.”
“I don’t want to talk about it” (234).
Asher’s immaturity is exposed in this dialogue, and it is clear that he lacks an understanding of his family’s situation. He overlooks his mother’s pain from her husband’s absence, and he is unable to see the difficulty of his father’s work, and that his father needs his mother’s support. At this point in the novel Asher is selfish, but his epiphany in Paris about his mother’s suffering marks the start of his transition away from this kind of self-centered thinking. After coming to realization about his mother in Paris, Asher is unable to paint. The suffering of his mother remains in his head, and Asher feels that he must bring his mother’s suffering to life through his work. Asher paints his mother being crucified on the same window that…