The Rise of David Levinsky, the Failure of Success

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Atle Stray English 110 (Agder University, Norway) 21 Mach 2006 The Failure of Success In Abraham Cahan’s The Rise of David Levinsky, we follow the path of our protagonist in a true “rags to riches” tale from a poverty stricken town in Russia to financial success in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. Yet for all the money he is worth by the end of the novel, Levinsky finds that he is still lacking in another, more important area – that of love. Why is it that Levinsky’s shrewd head is able to bring him success in business and yet not in relationships? It would seem that the clash of his upbringing and American culture mixed with early experiences with women has doomed him to a life of failure in love. The first half of the book deals with Levinsky’s childhood in Russia. Most of his life revolved around religion in some form or another, whether while studying the Talmud to please his mother or from being brought up in the fashion of a “good Jewish boy.” His first years left a very deeply engrained feeling of separation from the female sex, with a very distinct line that could not be crossed without becoming a “sinner.” Women themselves were not held highly in his society, but seen rather as a tool of Satan, and seemingly innocent things such as dancing, being close to or even touching or thinking of a woman in an impure manner was out of the question; a young boy as himself was to devote himself completely to God and his studies: “In the eye of the spiritual law that governed my life women were intended for two purposes only: for the continuation of the human species and to serve as an instrument in the hands of Satan for tempting the stronger sex to sin. Marriage was simply a duty imposed by the Bible. Love? So far as it meant attraction between two persons of the opposite sex who were not man and wife, there was
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