Page 155 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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does not want to admit it” (M 30). The narrator even informs
the reader of what the character tries to hide from himself.
Most of this story is devoted to a sequence of increasingly
remote fantasies. First the messenger imagines what he would
buy if he had money. Then he recalls his army days as a re­
cruited soldier under Tsar Nicholas I (M 32). There follows
a long recollection of his marriage to the sharp-tongued
Shprintze, who died many years earlier (M 33-36). Finally, after
his weak heart compels him to sit and rest in the snow, he imag­
ines entering a warm, friendly household. Dream takes the place
of reality, offering the messenger an imaginative escape from
the snowstorm just as he is on the verge of death. Where
Mendele uses first-person narrative in an allegory of the Jewish
condition, Peretz employs the internal monologue technique to
represent the psychology of an unfortunate individual.
We need not dwell on the second of the stories, “What is
‘Soul’?” The narrator of this text recalls a sequence of contem­
plations on the soul and the afterlife, from the time of his child­
hood to maturity. While this is a significant forerunner to Peretz’
renowned hasidic tales, it suffers from an absence of plot. Peretz
has not yet mastered the nuanced tone and suspense of his
later works, in which first-person narrative enables him to subtly
attack superstitious customs and beliefs. As a transitional piece,
“What is ‘Soul’?” is an instructive failure, but not one that re­
quires extensive comment.
In “The Mad Talmudist,” Peretz more closely emulates
Mendele’s persona of a mad youth. Like Mendele in
The Nag,
Peretz deals with an eccentric character who suffers from the
discrepancy between his readings and his life. But whereas
Mendele uses satire, irony, and allegory to convey a social mes­
sage, Peretz turns inward to probe the consciousness of his pro­
tagonist. Mendele raises issues of education and social progress;
in contrast, Peretz concentrates on the repressed desire of his
The Nag
purports to be a first-person narrative by
Isrolik the Madman, edited by Mendele, Peretz chooses the
more innovative style of internal monologue, which diminishes
the apparent distance between the narrator and his story. With
the exception of several short third-person descriptions, the
narrative consists of the mad Talmudist’s represented thoughts.