“The Passover Guest” by Sholom Aleichem

20Feb05

In “The Passover Guest,” Aleichem explores the importance of storytelling. The narrator “was wild with curiosity to see the guest who didn’t understand Yiddish, and who talked with a’s” and he “puffed up with pride as [he] follow[ed] my father and his guest to [his] house, and feel how all [his] comrades envy [him].” At dinner, the guest impresses the entire family by simply stating his name, Ayak Bakar Gashal Damas Hanoch Vassam Za’an Chafaf Tatzatz. A man who possesses such a long last name must be a man of great distinction. The stranger supports the family’s suspicions by telling stories of a land of great wealth and beauty from where this man supposedly came.

Had I been in this family’s position, I would have been skeptical if someone told me of a land where houses are made of gold and silver and jewels line the streets. But to this family, these stories coupled with the stranger’s mystery become more important than reality. When the stranger reveals his true identity by robbing the family, the boy narrator mourns the loss of his dreams of the magical place that the stranger described more than he regrets the loss of his parents’ material wealth.

The land that the stranger describes sounds very similar to one of the places Candide and Cacambo travel to in Voltaire’s Candide. Coincidence?

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