Jewish American Literature
“Duty Matters” Throughout the course of the semester, the concept of duty has been a major theme in various novels, such as in Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers, Cynthia Ozick’s The Shawl, and Saul Bellow’s Herzog. Although Yezierska, Ozick, and Bellow offer different circumstances, they all suggest a sense of responsibility from parent to child. I will show how the relationship between Sara and her father in Bread Givers differ from Rosa and the living incarnation of her daughter in The Shawl and Herzog’s fight to gain custody of his daughter June in Herzog. They are all significant in understanding the parent-child commitment in Jewish American families. According to these three novels, parents are obligated to their children – parents must give emotional support as well as security to them. According to Norman Soloman’s Judaism: A Very Short Introduction, the idea of duty is an act when one is obligated to carry out as well as a feeling of responsibility. In Judaism, a man's duties are defined by God's commandments. One must decree to the Torah, the first five books of the Bible as a guide to holiness. The complete theological idea of a man's role in life is comprised within the notion of mitzvah, which means “duty”. The term ḥovah, denotating “obligation” or “duty” is also used the same as mitzvah. To complete a divine commandment is to satisfy one's duty. In these three novels, duty is the chief reason for the actions of these characters.