Page 117 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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SLOTNICK / GRADE’S CENTRAL CONCERN
109
expressed through the artistic medium of fiction. And it is in the
novels that Grade transcends particular, personal struggles and
addresses himself to more general, abstract questions as to what
an individual can or should believe, and how these beliefs should
be realized in action.
THE WELL
The central focus of the short novel
The Well
is the attempt of a
simple man, Mende the porter, to collect two hundred zlotys in
order to repair the neighborhood well of the Vilna Synagogue
Courtyard. Pursuing this altruistic goal, Mende deals with an
ever-widening circle of people, from his own poor neighbors in
the Courtyard, to the merchants of the neighborhood, to the
members of a Zionist congregation, to the very highest religious
authorities — a conference of the leading rabbis of Lithuania,
called together in Vilna. Mende’s seeming naivete and purity of
motive are contrasted with the array of ulterior motives of those
who aid him by contributing to the fund for the well. As the novel
progresses, it becomes increasingly evident that Mende’s cam­
paign, while revealing many individual and group conflicts,
serves to smooth them over (if only temporarily) and to turn
much of the opposing energies and petty quarrels to a good cause
— the repair of the community well.
Through the central figure of Mende, who transcends his
humble status of porter to become a community celebrity and
benefactor, various individuals and groups are induced to con­
tribute to the project, and so resolve, if only temporarily, their
ongoing state of conflict. But even at the very end of the novel, at
the celebration of the renewing of the well, there is a note of
disharmony: the rival celebration of Muraviov, a blind begger
who refused to contribute to Mende’s project but secretly paid for
the transcription of a new Torah, to honor himself, ensure the
continuation of his name, and perhaps — through magic — heal
his sore eyes. This selfish man who (literally) cannot see beyond
his own needs is contrasted with the simple selflessness of Mende.
Both perform a service to the community, but on very different
terms.
In the final scene of the novel, Muraviov leads his hired band of
musicians to disrupt Mende’s celebration. The porter naively
assumes that Muraviov is genuinely joining in his celebration,