Page 67 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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WINEMAN / AGNON: THE WRITER AND HIS TOWN
5 9
the stories of his town, profound and gripping images of human
wholeness.
One story, “In a Single H ou r,”17 which is very likely an
adaptation and radicalization of a hasidic tale, exemplifies this
trait ever so clearly. There is a tale of a wagon-driver who made it
possible for a scheduled wedding to take place by giving a bride
money to purchase a prayer-shawl which the bride had promised
her betrothed but was then unable to provide.18 “In a Single
Hour” tells of a student who, witnessing the painful embarrass­
ment of a bride-to-be whose betrothed had cancelled the wed­
ding ceremony at the last moment, volunteered to marry the girl
himself and, in so doing, he transformed an occasion of sorrow
and bitterness into one of profound joy. In his astonishing deed
the student brings his legacy of learning to life in a single act of
compassion. H. Barzel has explained the story as both mirroring
the theme of consolation following the mourning for the destruc­
tion of Jerusalem and reflecting the rebuilding and renewal of
Bucacz after it had been destroyed by fire.19
FANTASY AND REALITY
Agnon gave expression to his feelings toward his town not only
in stories set in Bucacz and in a recasting of its past, but also in
stories having other settings as his native town acquires a sense of
total presence in the consciousness of his characters. The town
comes to life as the workings of the subconscious mind, the world
o f fantasy, and the “ex ternal” world interweave, completely
blurring the line between them. In “The Sign,” when the persona
attempted temporarily to repress the news that all the Jews of his
town had been annihilated by the Nazis, his town appeared to
him in such a way that he sensed it as more real than the academy
in a Jerusalem suburb where he was sitting and studying at the
time. The town, with its Jewish population already demolished,
came to life for him in a fantasy-like experience which culminated
in his vision of a medieval poet who appeared on the scene to
utter a poem, an acrostic on the name of the town.
17 “Besha’ah ahat,”
Ir umelo’ah,
pp. 558-588.
18
M i-nifla’ot ha-rabi
(Warsaw, 1911), p. 16, #7; included in M. Ben-Yehezkel,
Sefer ha-ma’asiyot
(Tel Aviv, 1958), vol. V, p. 377.
19 Barzel, pp. 317-318.