Page 157 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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ger thinks within him, like a bird inside a cage. On one level,
this image represents the soul that is trapped inside the body.
More specifically, however, the bird is a little dove, in Yiddish
(MT 23), which is also the name o f the woman he loves.
She, or his desire for her, is trapped inside his more rational
self. Because his reason has only partial control, he is called
These early tales are unlike the later hasidic stories for which
Peretz is best known, because they contain little satire or irony.
Peretz does not describe the messenger and Talmudist in o rder
to criticize them, but rather to recreate their particular states
o f consciousness. This distinguishes him sharply from Mendele
Mokher Sforim, who first and foremost directs his portrayals
toward the pedantic goals o f the Enlightenment. Whereas
Mendele sought to satirize and render obsolete the superstitious
world, young Peretz did not yet aim at social ends.
Peretz’ earliest letters to Sholem Aleichem provide evidence
of his aesthetic commitments. When Peretz first learned of
Sholem Aleichem’s plan to publish Yiddish literature, he con­
fused his name—Sholem Rabinovitsh—with that o f Mendele
Mokher Sforim—Sholem Abramovitsh. Hence Peretz writes to
Sholem Aleichem as if he were addressing Mendele Mokher
Sforim, and wonders whether the established au thor will ap­
preciate his work. Since he knows Mendele’s
Travels o f Benjamin
the Third
The Nag
from Polish translations, he has ample
reason to doubt whether the au thor o f these novels will accept
his own stories. Peretz mentions four differences in their writ­
First, I am certain that my poems and articles will not be pleas­
ing to you from the standpoint. . . o f form: our everyday speech
and yours are d if fe r en t . . . in ours there are more expressions
from the German language.
Second, I know the work o f my lord: his will and striving
(as far as I have been able to understand) is to write for the
p u b lic . . . but I write for myself, for my own pleasure; and if
I sometimes remember the reader, he is from a higher class in
society.. . .
Third, there is a great difference between the objects them­