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The Affront of Orthodoxy In Dara Horns In the Image and Nathan Englanders What We Talk About When We Talk

About Anne Frank, Jewish orthodoxy is seen as an affront to the secular populations way of life. For the characters in both novels, the presentation of Jewish orthodoxy is an uncomfortable reminder of all that they are not doing in relation to their religion. It intimidates them, challenges them and makes them question their own Jewishness. Nathan Englanders short story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, presents a secular couple reuniting with an Orthodox couple. The narrator welcomes the Orthodox couple into his home, but it is immediately obvious that they make him uncomfortable. He describes them: Lauren met Mark and they went off to the Holy Land and went from Orthodox to ultra-Orthodox, which to me sounds like repackaged detergent --- ORTHODOX ULTRA, now with more deep-healing power. Because of that, were supposed to call them Shoshana and Yerucham (Englander 4). He makes a joke that takes away from any implied importance in the other couples decision to become Orthodox. In fact, he is so distressed by them that he refuses to call Mark by his new name. He interrupts his wife, Debbie, after she introduces Lauren as Shoshana to their son, Trevor. Before she has a chance to continue, the narrator introduces Yerucham as Mark. In fact, for much of the story the narrator uses the name Mark. And it is only when they are a bit tipsy and his wife mentions her and Laurens history together, that she is referred to as Shoshana by the narrator for the rest of the story (Englander 12). It is as if her childhood being brought up makes her a worthy person, who is allowed to own the name she chose for herself. Before that, the name Shoshana was not real, but a costume comparable to the large Marilyn Monroe wig she wears. In fact the narrator seems to jump to the

conclusion that these people are wearing a faade, that they are fake. If its not, Ill kosher it up real fast, he [Mark] says, pretending to be easygoing. And right then he takes off that big black hat and plops down on the couch in the den (Englander 5). The narrator uses the word pretending. He cannot believe that the couple are not wearing a costume. This also shows why he is so interested in their clothing, like Marks hat and Shoshanas wig. Their clothing choice is so different and largess, how could it be worn with any sincerity? The subject of their clothing comes up again later in the story. Mark remarks that the narrators son, Trevor, doesnt not seem Jewish to him. The narrator responds, The hat, the beard, the blocky shoes. A lot of pressure, Id venture, to look Jewish to you. Like say, maybe, Ozzy Osbourne, or the guys from Kiss, like them telling Paul Simon, saying, You do not look like a musician to me (Englander 21). And here, the route of the narrators distress becomes clear. He feels that when being compared to them, he is not Jewish enough. It is as if because he does not advertise it so obviously, he is less of a Jew. And this not only makes him angry but contemptuous of Mark. But it also makes him want to prove himself. My mother, Mark says. Shes failing and my fathers getting oldand they come to us for Sukkot every year. You know? I know the holidays, I say (Englander 6). The narrator has to prove that he is a good Jew and knows the holy days, and perhaps jumps to the conclusion that Mark is challenging his Jewishness. And Debbie also shows this need to prove themselves as good people, good parents. As they sit drinking Whiskey, Deb insists that, This is really racy for us. I mean really racy. We try not to drink much at all these days. We think it sets a bad example for Trevor (Englander 7). It is as if Orthodox people are seen as the epitome of all that is good and purethey are a mirror of how people should live. And people, at least the narrator, do not like being told that are not living

correctly. Actually, the narrator can be seen as a personification of public opinion. He is never given a name in the story, and so his feelings of derision for the other couple, his internal monologue and observations, are directly related to the reader, as if it is the reader themself who is the originator of these thoughts. By not naming the narrator, by creating such an immediate relationship with the reader, Englander is saying most people share these notions. These themes of contempt and discomfort in relation to Orthodox Jews also show up in Dara Horns In the Image. In this story, we follow the evolution of Jason from a soccer player who barely acknowledges himself as Jewish, to a full-fledged Orthodox Jew. The reader follows this evolution through the eyes of Leora and Jake. Leora meets Jason before he becomes Orthodox. This Jason feels just as uncomfortable with Hassidic Jews as the narrator from Englanders What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank. In Chapter 2, Jason and Leora find themselves surrounded by a noticeably large number of Hassidic families at the zoo. Leora points out that he seems rather annoyed by them. His response is that he doesnt really know how he should feel around them. Why do they make me feel, since Im Jewish and theyre Jewish, but Im not Super-Duper Jew like they are, that everything Im doing in my life is totally wrong? (Horn 48) So it is interesting that when he breaks his leg, he substitutes his obsession with soccer, with an immersement into Hasidism. He loses his friends on the soccer team but find new friends, who happen to be Hasidic. As Leora puts it, They became Jasons new soccer team (Horn 57). It is as if Jason did not need the religion itself, but the community it gave him. In this, it is possible that Jason is just as insincere in his convictions as Englanders narrator thought Mark was. And like Mark, Jason also changes his name when he becomes Hasidic, to Yehudah. Jason even tells us why he made the decision. It wasnt only losing soccer, but how he treated Leora. He feels guilty for having pushed her into sleeping with him. He

began to hate himself. And then he fell into his new world like a diver plunging into living, purifying waters (Horn 210). Again this shows that Jason did not becomes Hasidic because of devout belief, but because it was a comforting community. And later, when Leora see Jason in his entire Hassidic garb she refers to his black hat and dark suit as a costume. As if it is simply a shell that would fall off to show his shiny soccer-victory grin (Horn 64). Leora is hinting that this version of Jason is not the true one and that he just playing a role. By showing how Jason falls into Hasidism, Horn might be making a comment about the hypocritical nature of the people who follow Jewish orthodoxy. But not only do they seem hypocritical, but they also seem self-righteous and arrogant to the other characters. When Jake goes to buy an engagement ring for Leora, he meets Yehuda. Jake senses, or presumes to sense, his arrogance throughout the meeting. Jake detected a hint of smugness in Yehudahs voice, which he had somehow expected. Mad Hatters always seemed so smug, as if having no doubts about ones own life were itself the highest virtue. That pissed him off (Horn 211). Jake refers to Yehudah as the Mad Hatter when Yehudah takes off his hat to reveal a large black yarmulke (Horn 202). He uses the word, mad, assigning the Hassidic man an imbalance of sanity for deciding to be orthodox because Jake cant understand why someone would chose to live that way. Jakes dislike of Yehudah is further illustrated when Yehudah laughs after making a joke. The laugh annoyed Jake. It reminded him of the kind of laugh the cool kids used to use to laugh at him in elementary school, though he couldnt picture Yehudah as a cool kid (Horn 203). Here the narrators perspective is a study in contradictions. Yehudah intimidates him, makes him feels as if he is less than worthy, and yet at the same time Jakes allows himself to look down on the

Hassidic man. These duel feelings aid in creating more aversion toward Yehudah, and all Hasidic Jews. In both Dara Horns and Nathan Englanders narratives, the Orthodox Jew is shown as a creature that instills deep feelings of resentment in secular Jews. In these people resides a living censure for all who do not follow in their footsteps. In order to reconcile their own feelings of inadequacy, secular Jews see Orthodox ones as being haughty self-righteous hypocrites. And Horn is saying, at least in her character of Jason, that perhaps the judgments cast upon them are not completely without basis.

Works Cited

Englander, Nathan. What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank: Stories. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. Print. Horn, Dara. In the Image: A Novel. New York: W.W. Norton, 2002. Print.