My Name is Asher Lev
I Comes Before “U” in the Alphabet and in Happiness Throughout life, one faces many responsibilities that could be taken upon; furthermore, sometimes one responsibility conflicts with another, causing a person to struggle to find which responsibility is more important in his life. In addition, for one to live his life in a manner that would make others content would be foolish, because this person would feel unsatisfied with his accomplishments and no one else would be completely pleased; It is impossible to make others completely happy, due to the fact that everyone would want and expect different things from this person.
For instance, in My Name Is Asher Lev , Asher is unsure whether or not the responsibility of pleasing the important people of his life and community is more important than making himself happy. In order for Asher to make others happy, he must sacrifice his one desire of being an artist. After attempting to do so, he concludes that being an artist is a greater priority in his life, because can not meet the needs of all the people that are important in to him in his life. Asher’s mother has no objections of his desire to draw, and is often encouraging him, which late in the novel leads him to become an artist. One example of his mother influencing him, she takes Asher, at a young age, on walks to several places, like the park. At these places Asher is able to draw different images, helping him find a hobby that he loves and that will later become his life. Another place his mother takes him to is the art museum. There they speak and learn about art, which Asher is later influenced by the paintings that are on display in that museum, and he often copies famous paintings. Another example, his mother is constantly asking Asher questions about his art, showing signs of interest. For instance, when she is ill and does not speak to her as often as she once did, she asks, “Asher?... Asher, are you drawing pretty things? Are you drawing sweet, pretty things? ...You should make the world pretty, Asher. Make it sweet and pretty. It’s nice to live in a pretty world” (Potok, p.17-18). By speaking to Asher about art when she is so sick and has other things on her mind shows him that she enjoys his art and that it is important.
Although his mother takes pleasure from happiness Asher gets by being an artist, his father is very against it. Asher’s father and mother having conflicting expectations of Asher, it is already impossible to make them both completely satisfied at the same time. Asher’s father wants him to stop drawing completely by constantly calling art “foolish” and “from the sitra achra”. In a discussion about art between Asher and his father, his father says, “Asher, you have a gift. I don’t know if it is from the Ribbono Shel Olom or from the Other side. If it is from the Other side, then it is foolishness, dangerous foolishness, for it will take you away from Torah and from your people and lead you to think only of yourself”(109). In addition to talking to him, his father talks to the Rebbe and Asher’s teachers to also influence him towards Torah and away from art. Therefore Asher is getting mixed feeling from the two closest people to him, leaving him no other choice but to pursue after his dreams.
On his path of becoming an artists, Asher learns valuable lessons from Jacob Kahn, which leads him contradict both his parents. In order for Asher to become the best artist he can, he must forget about everyone else and draw from his heart. Jacob Kahn makes him realizes this when he says, “As an artist you are responsible to Jews?... Listen to me, Asher Lev. As an artist you are responsible to no one and to nothing, except the truth as you see it. Do you understand? An artist is responsible to his art” (218). Asher then on begins to live life for himself and not for other by focusing only on art. His father is upset with his decision and causes them to have turmoil in their relationship. In addition to angering his father, Asher paints images that also his mother and the Jewish community are unhappy with. These pictures started with nudes and later lead to drawing his mother on a crucifix. When his parents see this in the exhibit, they immediately leave disappointed.
Along with his parents, several art critics and his community do like his art; but it was important for Asher to draw this painting because it makes him a good artist, being able to express himself without feeling any responsibility to anyone. Like any other person, it’s favorable for Asher to live his life in a fashion that pleases him, making him satisfied him for attempting to fulfill his most desired goals. From a young age Asher dreams of becoming a great artist, but his father does not approve because of his ideals of being a Jew. Throughout his life, he stumbles several times on the path of becoming an artist, trying to please the important people in his life before himself. For example, to make Asher’s father happy, he attempts to stop drawing. During this period of time, Asher suffers so much that he feels that he must begin to draw again. Therefore one should live to satisfy yourself rather than suffering for others. One should easily be able to accept Asher’s reasoning and realize that it is beneficial for him to live in the manner in which he desires.
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