Page 164 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
grows up, and that the feelings of Joseph for his father and
brothers were no less confused and confusing than were
Saul’s to me, or toward his real son Jonathan. Or than mine
for Saul. Or mine for God, and His for me: We can’t seem to
make up our minds.
(GK,
p. 36)
This theme of the relationships of fathers and their sons is re­
lated by Heller to the discussion earlier concerning Greek litera­
ture. It is all a question of differing concepts of tragedy. In the
Greek tradition, a tragic situation arises when a hero must choose
between two equally destructive options. The hero’s heroism is
measured by the choice he makes. Did he make the choice that
will redound to his credit, that will bring him the honor so prized
by the Greeks? Is it not his destiny — like Oedipus — to choose
the outcome he chooses? David has a different view of life from
the Greeks. “I am David, not Oedipus,” he asserts, “and I would
have broken destiny to bits”
(GK,
p. 18).
TREATMENT OF ABSALOM
David is subjected to a tragic dilemma but he will treat it Jew-
ishly. The story of Absalom and David’s handling of it reveal his
outlook on life. The story contains within it the meaning of the
novel. Amnon, one of David’s sons, rapes Tamar, one of David’s
daughters, sister to Absalom. This produces a double bind for
David, a dilemma, a Catch-22 situation:
Should I avenge a daughter or save a son. . . . In the end I
did nothing of course. . . . I would not let myself under­
stand that he even blamed me, but how did he expect me to
punish Amnon? How in the world could I have punished
Absalom himself if Joab had not done it for me?
(GK,
p.
300)
All David can do is send a messenger to Absalom: “Tell him I
apologize. I should have punished Amnon some way after what
he did, but I still wouldn’t know how. Amnon was my child also”
(GK,
p. 200). Is this the reaction of a weak Greek or of a strongly
identifying Jew? The old/new Catch-22 gets even more intricate.
There is a double bind on the double bind when years later
Absalom kills Amnon in revenge and then rebels against David.
Should David kill Absalom? He goes to consult the wise woman of