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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Compare and Contrast Essay on ‘The Lesson’ and ‘The Conversion of the Jews’

Epiphany came from the Greek word epiphaneia which means manifestation or striking appearance.  In the epiphany was associated with the manifestation of a deity.  It is now commonly understood as the sudden realization, perception or insight or comprehension of an essence or meaning of something.  In short stories, epiphanies can happen as a result of an experience or event.  It can also happen as a result of a third person who makes one of the characters in the story comprehend an important thing in life.  This essay seeks to explain whether the main characters in the stories ‘The Lesson’ and ‘The Conversion of Jews’ experienced an epiphany.  A comparison of how the realization was made and who caused the realization will also be discussed in this essay. 

In the short story ‘The Lesson’ Sylvia and the other kids learned a lesson from this trip to the toy store at Fifth Avenue.  She learned taht Miss Moore was right after all.  She has been living in a world where the wealth and resources are not equally distributed (Jane Ruth Heller 1).  It is a world where some people are getting the lion's share of the wealth while some are gettting only the leftovers.  It just so happens taht they are at the bottom of the food chain and that they are getting a very small part of the wealth.  Thus, one of the childrein the sotry said “’I think,’…that this is not much of a democracy if you ask me. Equal chance to pursue happiness means an equal crack at the dough, don't it?”  (The Lesson)   

On the other hand, the white are getting a big chunk of the wealth.  Some of these people are actually living a decent life and have the purchasing power to buy expensive toys and clothes.  Some of this people do not have to worry about the rent and the money to buy the food while Sylvia and her family are having difficulty simply paying their rent or buying new beds.  Her family could not even afford to visit their grandfather at the country.  Thus, it was said in the story, “Who are these people that spend that much for performing clowns and $1000 for toy sailboats? What kinda work they do and how they live and how come we ain't in on it?” (The Lesson)

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She realized that she had been living in a world where she knew that everyone was living in poverty.  She thought that everyone was living in the same condition as they are in the community.  The trip has widened her horizon.  With the help of Miss Moore who served as an agent of change in the story, Sylvia has learned a great deal about the world that has been hidden from her view.  The different world here was symbolized by the toy store.  It is worth recalling that as the children were entering the toy store, Sylvia and the other children felt a different and new feeling.  It was as if they are entering a different universe, to wit:

But I feel funny, shame. But what I got to be shamed about? Got as much right to go in as anybody. But somehow I can't seem to get hold of the door, so I step away from Sugar to lead. But she hangs back too. And I look at her and she looks at me and this is ridiculous. I mean, damn, I have never ever been shy about doing nothing or going nowhere.” (The Lesson)

In essence, it was just a toy store.  But it was a toy store that aroused their emotions.  Some were confused.  But Sylvia’s emotion is much stronger.  She was angry.  Thus, it was said, “We just stare at that price tag. Then Sugar run a finger over the whole boat. And I'm jealous and want to hit her. Maybe not her, but I sure want to punch somebody in the mouth.” (The Lesson)  The children felt as if they were entering a different world.   A world that she never thought existed.  It is a world that she would have never known without the help of Miss Moore. 

There was no realization from Ozzie Freedman, the main character in the story ‘The Conversion of the Jews.  Ozzie had long known about the hypocrisy prevalent among many of the Jews in his community. (“The Conversion of the Jews: Themes” 2)  In his search for the truth about Judaism, he managed to stumble upon many beliefs and practices and he questioned them.  In the process, he aroused the ire of the people around him.  He merely wanted the people to realize about their obsession with rituals and practices.  It was not also clear whether there was realization among the other characters in the story but the Ozzie was satisfied with what the other characters have said.

One of these people is his mother who was obsessed with rituals and practices.  She made it a

habit to light candles on the Sabbath.  His mother’s ritualistic beliefs stressed in the following “When his mother lit the candles she would more her two arms slowly towards her, dragging them through the air, as though persuading people whose minds are half made up. And her eyes would get glassy with tears.”  (The Conversion of the Jews)  She believed in God but she did not acknowledge the omnipotence of God. 

The second is the custodian who would rather recite prayers which he did not understand.  For Ozzie, he thought that this is preposterous and ridiculous.  He thought that it is better for him to recite prayers which he understood.

Of all persons, Ozzie considered the rabbi as the most hypocrite.  Ozzie thought that the rabbi is hypocrite because he believed in something that is not true.  He refused to recognize the inconsistency in his belief and will not admit that it is possible for Jesus to be born in a virgin mother despite the omnipotence of God.  In addition, he forces his student to read the bible in a fast manner even if as a result the student will not be able to understand what they are reading. 

A comparison of the two stories will reveal that the Sylvia, the main character in ‘The Lesson’ had an epiphany towards the end of the story.  She realized that her world is not the only world and that there is a much better world outside of her community.  On the other hand, Ozzie, the main character in ‘The Conversion of the Jews,’ had long understood the obsession with rituals and practices among many Jews.  He had long known that they were hypocrites.  He had long known that they were wrong.  His goal was to make his mother, rabbi and friends understand the inconsistency in their beliefs.

If we are to compare the situation of Sylvia and Ozzie, it is noticeable that their roles in the story were different.  In the case of Sylvia, she was the one who experienced an epiphany towards the end of the story.  She was the one who learned from their short visit at the toy store.  With the help of Miss Moore who served as an agent of change, she learned a great deal about her own world and the other world.  Miss Moore actually converted the children.  On the other hand, Ozzie was the agent of change in ‘The Conversion of the Jews.”  He was the one who made his mother, rabbi and his friends realized about the inconsistency in their beliefs.  She was the one who converted the Jews.  She was the one who taught the Jews about the errors in their belief. 

The manner of the realization was also different.  Sylvia’s realization came after the short visit to the toy store.  While Miss Moore wanted to teach the children about money, it was done indirectly.  It was not done in a straightforward manner.  Miss Moore wanted the children to realize for themselves.  On the other hand, Ozzie used threat in sending his message to his mother, rabbi and friends.  By attempting to jump from the roof of the Synagogue he made the people reflect about their religion and realize their mistakes. 

One similarity, however, is with respect to the ending of the story.  The endings were open-ended.  It was not known what Sylvia will know after the realization.  Though she vowed towards the end of the story that nobody will beat her at anything, it was not known whether she will lead a life of crime and whether she would work harder.  It however gave the impression that Sylvia will do something about her situation.  Thus, she said, “We start down the block and she gets ahead which is O.K. by me cause I'm going to the West End and then over to the Drive to think this day through. She can run if she want to and even run faster. But ain't nobody gonna beat me at nuthin.” On the other hand, it was not also known whether Ozzie’s mother, rabbi and classmates will actually change their behavior or their beliefs.  Towards the end of the story, he made them say that “God can make a child without intercourse.” Whether these people actually believed him was not shown.  All that is known is that Ozzie made his mother, rabbi and friends say something that he wanted them to say.  At the end of the story he was satisfied with what he had heard. 


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