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Does End Justify Means?
on November 3, 2011
Richler's "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" is a masterpiece and another one of his classics. It fashions the protagonist, Duddy, as a young Jew who has his mind set on a single piece of wisdom, passed on to him by his paternal grandfather, that a "man without land is nobody". This statement constitutes a mantra or a leitmotif throughout the novel. It hardly, therefore, an overstatement if one were to maintain that this grandfatherly wisdom defines Duddy's life. His near obsession with owning a land forces Duddy to resort to underhanded acts that in his mind would bring him nearer to realizing his dream and which they actually do so ultimately.
Some of the things he has done to amass the money to pay for the purchase of the estates were reprehensible but the last act shows to what lows he can stoop just to achieve the dream of his life. Without giving too much away, the last act undoubtedly was not only immoral and illegal, but lacked human sympathy and consideration as well. Duddy is described in a blob at the back of the edition that I own as an "antihero", which in many ways he is. However, I would say that what describes Duddy best is what his father, Max, said in charaterizing his son: "He thrives on adversity". That is exactly what he does.
In my view, the novel carries a parallel, or a sub, narrative. In an indirect way the novel tells the history of the Jewish people. Since they went into the diaspora, many centuries ago, the Jews yearned for a homeland to which they can belong and from which they can derive their identity. In other words, the need to have a geographical space that they would call the fatherland, or motherland, does in a very signifcant way define the history of the Jews. Duddy Kravitz symbolizes that Jewish yearning.
The parallel narrative continues to suggest that the founding fathers of the Jewish homeland in Palestine might have perpetrated wrongful,illegal and immoral acts along the way. The most culpable of those is probably the dispossession of the endogenous Palestinian population. Simcha, or zeyda as he is referred to in the novel, who is Duddy's grandfather represents the Jewish conscience. Despite the fact that he passed on to Duddy the notion that a " man without land is nobody", zeyda never meant that in the acquisition of this land one can have recourse to whatever means regardless of their moral or legal standing.
That is why we see zeyda in a wistful mood at the end of the novel as Duddy takes him, his father and his brother to show them the land that he now owns. Simcha knew about Duddy's reprehensible action which he committed in order to acquire the final portion of the land and he was not happy about that. Zeyda told Duddy that he needed to go back to the car as the latter effusively and enthusiastically showed them the estate.
"The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" is a captivating read, but I should hasten to add that it lacks the depth and scope of the author's other, but less well known, masterpiece: "Solomon Gursky was Here".