The Chosen

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Eyes and Blindness Symbol Analysis

Eyes and Blindness Symbol Icon
Reuven’s injured and nearly blinded eye plays a key role in The Chosen from early on in the novel. Even after he heals the threat of blindness continues. In a world that so honors knowledge, the ability to perceive and receive information regarding both the outside world and oneself is of great importance. The novel is punctuated by moments of single-minded hatred or blind misunderstanding, which can only be overcome through careful observation. Mr. Malter also uses the eye as a symbol of life when he lectures his son on the need to make an impact during his short time on earth: “the eye that blinks, that is something.” Potok adds power to his use of the eye by depicting them as a means of communication as well as perception. Reuven and Danny communicate with their eyes when they are not allowed to talk; Mr. Malter’s eyes become dark when he is angry; and Reb Saunders asserts that he knew of Danny’s choice to become a psychologist by stating that he could “see his eyes.”

Eyes and Blindness Quotes in The Chosen

The The Chosen quotes below all refer to the symbol of Eyes and Blindness. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Judaism and Tradition Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Fawcett edition of The Chosen published in 1987.
Chapter 2 Quotes

“Things are always what they seem to be, Reuven? Since when?”

Related Characters: David Malter (speaker), Reuven Malter
Related Symbols: Eyes and Blindness
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mr. Malter angrily tells his son Reuven to question his assumptions about other people. Reuven, who's in the hospital with a ruined eye, claims that Danny Saunders (his opponent in the softball game) deliberately tried to hurt his eye with a softball. Mr. Malter tells Reuven not to jump to conclusions based on what "seems" to be true: instead, he must weigh the facts and assess all the evidence.

Mr. Malter's advice is both rational and deeply emotional. On one hand, he's trying to teach his kid to be logical and rational; in other words, to be a good student and (one day) a great mathematician. On the other hand, Mr. Malter's words can be interpreted as a plea for tolerance and friendship: as we'll see, Reuven will use his father's advice as an inspiration for befriending Danny, the very boy who hurt him.

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I couldn’t imagine what it was like to know that no matter whether my eyes were opened or closed it made no difference, everything was still dark.

Related Characters: Reuven Malter (speaker)
Related Symbols: Eyes and Blindness
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Reuven has been sent to the hospital after sustaining a nasty eye injury during a softball game. Reuven is told that there's a chance he could lose his vision in the injured eye--a possibility that he finds terrifying.

The passage is important because it suggests blindness as one of the key symbols of the book. In a novel about tolerance and understanding for other people, eyesight symbolizes the human soul's capacity to love those who are "different." Reuven's inability to imagine what blindness is like suggests his natural instinct to sympathize and empathize with others (except, notably, the blind)--an instinct that no amount of mob mentality can suppress. Finally, the image of blindness might symbolize Reuven's understanding of death. In the time of the Holocaust, death hangs over the entire Jewish community, and adds a sense of urgency to Reuven's friendship with Danny. When the Jewish community as a whole is under attack, Reuven and Danny should focus on what they have in common instead of becoming jealous rivals.

Chapter 11 Quotes

It was as senseless, as – I held my breath, feeling myself shiver with fear – as Billy’s blindness was senseless. That was it. It was as senseless, as empty of meaning, as Billy’s blindness. I lay there and thought of Roosevelt being dead and Billy being blind, and finally I turned over and lay with my face on the pillow and felt myself crying. I cried a long time.

Related Characters: Reuven Malter (speaker), Billy Merrit
Related Symbols: Eyes and Blindness
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

In one of the low points of the book, Reuven receives word of Frank Delano Roosevelt's death, the horrors of the Holocaust, and his friend Billy's failed medical operation, all within a few days of each other. Reuven is overcome by the senseless tragedy of the world: there's so much pain and suffering around him.

Reuven's behavior in this scene indicates how compassionate he's become: he's genuinely moved by the pain of other people. At the same time, the scene represents a challenge to Reuven's faith in God--like so many religious people in the 40s and 50s, he questions how a just God could possibly allow so much tragedy to occur.

Chapter 15 Quotes

We had begun to communicate with our eyes, with nods of our heads, with gestures of our hands.

Related Characters: Reuven Malter (speaker), Danny Saunders
Related Symbols: Eyes and Blindness, Silence
Page Number: 255-256
Explanation and Analysis:

After Danny and Reuven's fathers become rivals (one supports a Zionist state; the other doesn't), Danny and Reuven are forbidden to talk to one another. Even though Danny and Reuven obey their parents, they find ways to communicate with one another: smiles, gestures, nods, etc. Both boys realizes that it's possible to communicate without ever opening one's mouth. Moreover, silence need not be an expression of anger or severity--silence can communicate love and affection. Danny and Reuven don't talk to each other, but they make it clear that they're still friends.

The passage is important because it foreshadows arguably the most moving scene in the novel, when Danny's father shows that his silence was always intended as a sign of love, not cruelty or austerity. As a vital part of his coming-of-age, Reuven learns that silence can mean many things. On a more symbolic level, Reuven's embrace of silence teaches him that a seemingly tragic or painful event can be blessing in disguise, and that the same event can be interpreted in many different ways.

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Eyes and Blindness Symbol Timeline in The Chosen

The timeline below shows where the symbol Eyes and Blindness appears in The Chosen. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 13
Judaism and Tradition Theme Icon
Choosing and Being Chosen Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Rebellion Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...of the Hasidic students avoid all contact with him. He is angry with “Reb Saunders’ blindness” and frustrated “at Danny’s helplessness.” Reuven talks to his father about this and his father... (full context)
Judaism and Tradition Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Rebellion Theme Icon
...lays awake thinking of everything he and Danny had done since his ball struck Reuven’s eye. (full context)
Chapter 14
Judaism and Tradition Theme Icon
World War II and War Theme Icon
...silence hurts Reuven so much that it starts to affect his grades. He feels a “blind, raging fury” towards Reb Saunders. Reb Saunders starts staging anti-Zionist rallies, which are not successful.... (full context)
Judaism and Tradition Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Rebellion Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...and Danny looks thin and pale. He does not even acknowledge Reuven and appears almost blind, which makes Reuven very angry. Reuven tries to forget Danny but cannot, especially because they... (full context)
Chapter 16
Fathers, Sons, and Rebellion Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...pay for a soul” but will not explain any further. But Reuven describes that his “eyes were dark.” (full context)