A Boy, A Spider, and A Fly
He flicks his hand at the pest buzzing around his ear. He was trying to concentrate on his pain, but the fly kept spinning around him. Silent mostly. The only time you heard a noise was when the fly got near his ear, but that’s when he flicked his hand at it wishing it would go away.
Finally, the fly was no longer buzzing around him. He was no longer a pest. However, after a short while he noticed the fly struggling in silence in a spider web. Flapping his wing feverishly to escape from its new predicament, the fly was noticed by the boy.
The spider that had spun the web was also noticed by the boy. The spider was doing what nature and tradition spoke to. He was pursuing the fly that he was blessed with. Silently approaching his new goal.
The boy found pity on the fly and helped the fly to free its wings from the web that kept it from being free. He blew not sure that his pity was appropriate, but now firmer and more steady for he new that the fly must be free.
* * * * *
This is the symbolic foreshadowing that Chaim Potok uses to hint at the fate of Danny and Reuven in “The Chosen” (see pp. 173-174). Although it is in my own words, the plight of the fly is the plight of Danny Saunders, the aim of the spider is the aim of Reb Saunders, and the pity of the boy is the pity of Reuven Malter.
Danny wished to study psychology, but his faith looked down upon such studies. Danny was particularly interested in the study of Sigmond Freud, so I feel it most appropriate to discuss the tail of the boy, the spider and the fly through the eyes of Sigmund Freud.
The Id, Ego, and Superego are, according to Freud, the silent subconscious forces in every human being. The id is what drives man to the carnal and selfish desires of a lustful heart. In literature, the id is often portrayed by one individual who seeks only the desires of the heart. The superego, according to Freud, is the force that drives man to do good and to follow the paths of right. There is a constant struggle between the id and the superego. Man wishes to have his desires met, and but he feels confined by his knowledge of right and wrong. The superego, in literature, is often the major force that keeps the id character from pursuing his desires. The ego, according to Freud, is quiet force that helps to achieve balance between the id and the superego. Literarily, this is the character that helps the id achieve his desires while maintain the wishes of the superego.
Danny, our Id, was “a brilliant son. And he cursed [his father] with all the problems of a raising him. Not a smart son, . . . but a brilliant son, a Daniel, a boy with a mind like a jewel. . . There was no soul in . . . Daniel, there was only his mind. He was a mind in a body without a soul” (pp. 282-283). Daniel would have become a most carnal and soulless person if it weren’t for the superego in his life.
Reb Saunders acting as our Superego knew that there was only one way to speak to the id found in his “brilliant son.” The subconscious is a silent beast that lurks in all of us, and the only way to speak to that silent beast is through silence. Reb Saunders fanned Danny’s “spark of goodness” into a flame through silence. He pulled at Danny to keep him close to the traditions of his father. But he knew that the id must and will be expressed, so he allowed an ego to play his role and find the balance.
Reb Saunders allowed Reuven, a non-Hasidic Jew who was faithful to his Jewry, to become the intercessor between the superego and the id. Reb Saunders “broke” the silence between him and his son through the ego. Reuven helped Danny learn psychology through his friendship, but Reuven was also familiar enough with Reb Saunders to help Danny to keep his interest in Freud at a safe enough distance.
The Chosen is a silent struggle between the id, the superego, and the ego. Each playing its part until it is time for the fly to escape from the web of tradition and to spread its wings and fly free.
* * * * *
I went out onto the porch, sat in the lounge chair, and stared across the yard at the ailanthus. Its leaves were bathed in sunlight, and its musky odor reached me faintly in the breeze that blew against the back of the house. Something moved faintly across the edge of the field of vision of my left eye, but I ignored it and kept staring at the sunlight on the ailanthus leaves. It moved again, and I heard a faint buzzing sound. I turned my head and looked at the wooden rail of the porch. A spider had spun a web across the corner of the upper rail, and there was a housefly trapped in it now, its wings spread-eagled, glued to the strands of the web, its legs flaying the air frantically. I saw its black body arching wildly, and then it managed to get its wings free, and there was the buzzing sound again as the wings struggled to free the body to which they were attached. Then the wings were trapped again by the filmy, almost invisible strands of the web, and the black legs kicked at the air. I saw the spider, with long, wispy legs and black eyes, move across the web toward the fly. I rose from the chair and went over to the web. The fly’s tiny black legs flayed the air fiercely, then its wings were free again, buzzing noisily, but its body remained glued fast. I bent and blew hard against the web. It swayed, but remained intact. I blew again, harder now, and the strands seemed suddenly to melt. The fly fell on its back to the wooden floor of the porch, righted itself, then flew off, buzzing loudly. The spider tumbled from the broken web, hung by a single strand, scrambled across the top front rail of the porch, and disappeared. I went back to the lounge char, sat down and continued to stare at the sunlight on the ailanthus. (pp. 173-174)