Page 64 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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58
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
matic of the purity and unity of creation which existed before
“ the liberation of the word,” the noisome coming of so-called
civilized man.
However, the question that Wiesel clearly poses is this: ought
his existence in the forest, as symbolic of a solitary, simplified
existence, be acceptable to a survivor like Gregor? Would not it
be much more difficult for him to leave the forest and be a man
among men in the town, with all its uncertain and ambiguous
weathers? Unmistakably, Wiesel implies that the gates of the
forest should ultimately lead his hero back to the gates of the
town. Still, the questions remain:
how
is this change to come
about?
Who
is to provide the impetus for it?
Both questions are answered by the coming of a stranger into
Gregor’s life, a nameless Jew who has also fled from the Germans
and their lackeys, the Hungarians. Gregor invites him to share
his cave. The stranger accepts, and at the outset he contends that
Gregor’s kind of silence (his withdrawal from the world) will not
do. True, Gregor has suffered, has lost his family and friends;
but if such sorrow is to have any meaning, Gregor must actively
defy injustice and the inhuman. Here the stranger’s teaching coin­
cides with that of Gregor’s father who used to say: “ The Messiah
is that which makes man more human, which makes the element
of pride out of generosity, which stretches his soul toward the
other.”
Seen as a whole, the function of this sequence in the cave is
clear: the protagonist recognizes the limits of a disengaged, insu­
lated way of life and the dangers of chronic inertia and melan­
choly. Too, the influence of the stranger prepares Gregor for what
presently will be his departure from the forest and reentry into
the world of men.
He next finds a refuge in the home of a former servant of his
family, Maria, who lives in a Roumanian village. Now although
the setting has changed from a cave to that of a rural village, he
is still a prisoner in the sense that Jonah was still confined when
his location was changed from the hold of a ship to the belly of
a whale; in both locations, Jonah was alienated from other men.
Maria passes him off as her deaf-mute nephew, so that he will
not need to speak and by a faulty Roumanian accent raise the
suspicion of the villagers.
Gregor soon breaks this silence. During a local school play, in
which he is forced to play the role of a silent Judas Iscariot, he
is nearly beaten to death by an audience whose anti-Semitic
animus comes violently, irrationally, to the surface. Gregor sud­
denly begins speaking to the villagers in the presumed voice of
Judas, saying that they need to see
him
as the victim and not