The Chosen

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Silence Symbol Icon
The characters of The Chosen continually debate the value of silence and partial resolution comes only in the last pages of the novel. Moments of silence range from casual and comfortable to cold and painful. The pain of silence arises because silence is always accompanied (for both the characters and the reader) with a lack of explanation. Each character must learn the meaning and use of silence for himself. This points to the fact that silence in The Chosen represents introspection and self-knowledge. At the same time silence can also represent great connection and understanding between two people. Reb Saunders wishes that everyone could communicate without words. Reuven finds this ridiculous at first but then learns that Reb Saunders truly understood his son in spite of the fact that that they never spoke to each other. The space left by silence is a powerful tool in The Chosen, leaving room for thought, pain, instruction and communion.

Silence Quotes in The Chosen

The The Chosen quotes below all refer to the symbol of Silence. 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 5 Quotes

I stood in that room for a long time, watching the sunlight and listening to the sounds on the street outside. I stood there, tasting the room and the sunlight and the sounds …

Related Characters: Reuven Malter (speaker)
Related Symbols: Silence
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Potok contrasts the silence of Mr. Malter with the ambient noises of New York City. Mr. Malter is a quiet, hard-working man, who believes in the beauty of silence, especially while he's working. While Potok seems to respect Mr. Malter's point of view, he also suggests, very subtly, that Malter is too limited and narrow in his worldview. To be silent in New York City is absurd: there'll always be a million sounds (sirens, cars, kids playing, etc.)--sounds that, it's suggested, Reuven embraces but his father tries to ignore.

Symbolically, then, the passage suggests the difference between the ways that Reuven and his father view the world. In spite of his compassion and broad-mindedness, Mr. Malter might be too serious and focused in the way he perceives life. Reuven is looser and freer in his thinking: he embraces chance and uncertainty, and savors the uncontrollable sounds of the world around him.

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Chapter 13 Quotes

Poor Danny, I thought. Professor Appleman, with his experimental psychology, is torturing your mind. And your father, with his bizarre silence – which I still couldn’t understand, no matter how often I thought about it – is torturing your soul.”

Related Characters: Reuven Malter (speaker), Danny Saunders, Reb Isaac Saunders, Professor Nathan Appleman
Related Symbols: Silence
Page Number: 222
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Potok sums up the challenges that Danny faces as a Hasidic student of science. To Professor Appleman, his teacher, Danny's religious affiliation is interfering with his scientific studies: Danny is more focused on his subjects' souls than on their minds. By the same token, Danny's own father sees him as being overly scientific: Danny is focusing too much on psychology when he should be studying the Torah.

With great difficulty, Danny tries to balance his commitment to science and his commitment to Judaism. In doing so, however, he alienates both the scientific and the Jewish community. To Danny's father, he's overly invested in science; to Danny's college professors, however, he's allowed his Judaism to warp his scientific sense of the world.

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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