Page 109 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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ABERBACH / AGNON AND THE NEED FOR TRADITION
101
MOTHER IMAGE
A sa lien t fe a tu re o f A g n o n ’s m a jo r works is the h e r o ’s inability
to r id h im se lf o f the m a te rn a l p re sence in his invo lvem en ts with
women . T h e m o th e r is still alive w ithin him , a rou s ing his
d ep e n d e n c e a n d rage . In his a tta chm en ts to wom en he is gov­
e rn e d by em o tion s an d a ttitud e s o th e r th an sexual desire . He
m igh t be d raw n to a woman because o f h e r bak ing , o r o u t o f
sym pathy fo r h e r , fea rs fo r h e r hea lth , the des ire to f ree h e r
from sham e , o r because o f a ch ildhood oa th , o r a ce r ta in d om ­
inance on h e r p a r t to which his passive n a tu re subm its, o r p e r ­
haps because he associates h e r with relig ious pu rity . H e is no t
a t tra c ted to a wom an fo r h e r own sake, b u t because o f the in ­
f iltra tion o f th e m o th e r ’s im age which a t the same time, causes
sexual inh ib ition an d pa ra lyzed ange r .
T h e fu llest p o r t ra i t o f the A gnon h e ro , th e causes and d isas­
trou s effects o f his incestuous ties, is fo u n d in the novel i ro n ­
ically en titled
S ippur Pashut
(A Simple Story), first pub lished
in 1934, an d set in early 20 th c en tu ry Buczacz (in his stories
A gnon calls it Shibbush). T h is novel, A g n o n ’s most rem a rkab le
psychological s tudy , clarifies m any o f his o th e r works. T h e he ro ,
six teen-year- old H irsh l Horow itz, is first a t trac ted to B lum ah ,
an o rp h a n e d cousin who lives with his family, by h e r baking.
H e r cakes rem in d him o f his m o th e r who, fo r h e r p a r t , is
a la rm ed a t the idea o f his be ing in love with a girl w ithou t
money o r social status. She wants him to m a rry Mina, the d a u g h ­
te r o f a wealthy m e rch an t .
H irsh l rem a in s passive, c ling ing to the impossible hop e th a t
B lum ah will s tand u p to his m o th e r , take th e initiative th a t he
shou ld take, a n d be the active p a r tn e r as his m o th e r has been .
N a turally , B lum ah does no t comply. Both he an d B lum ah a re
deep ly f ru s t ra te d a n d ang ry , bu t they do no t tell one an o th e r .
H irsh l idealizes B lum ah as a k ind o f asexual m o th e r fo rb id d en
to him (h e r nam e , with its sim ilarity to the H ebrew
balum,
‘closed’, suggests this). His idealization m igh t ind ica te the way
he would like to see his m o th e r , w ithou t ambivalence: in th in k ­
ing o f h e r in this way, he keeps a f irm e r g r ip on his sanity.
Mina, who la te r becomes th e ta rg e t fo r his supp re ssed violence,
is the one to whom his d a rk e r feelings tow ards his m o th e r a re
evident.
H irsh l’s passivity with B lum ah is traced to the fact th a t his