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Unfinished Business: Sholem Aleichem's From the Fair

Roskies, David G.

Looking at Sholem Aleichem’s unfinished autobiography Funem yarid (From the Fair) might help us resolve some of the longstanding debates as to the author’s major strengths and weaknesses. Since 1908, for example, critics have been divided as to whether Sholem Aleichem’s real subject was the life of the Jewish collective which he captured through national types (Ba’al-Makhshoves) or the life of the individual Jew caught in a web of madness (Nokhem Oyslender). Later, as critical methodologies hardened along party lines, a debate arose over Tevye and Menakhem-Mendl as paradigms of the petty bourgeoisie (Max Erik) or of the Jewish collective unconscious (I. J. Trunk). It would seem that the existence of an autobiography might settle the matter one way or the other, for autobiography is the one genre designed to probe the inner life of the writer, the voyage of his soul, or, at the very least, the course of his education. Can it be that the critics who argued the collectivist position then ignored From the Fair in order to skew the evi dence in their favor?

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Jewish Theological Seminary
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November 13, 2012
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