Thursday, September 17, 2020

Class 12 - Elective English - A Wedding in Brownsville by Isaac Bashevis Singer


Issac Bashevis Singer was a Polish – American writer who used to write in Yiddish language. He received a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978.  This story basically points out the void or the emptiness that overpowers the protagonist of the story, that is, Dr.  Solomon Margolin, even after he manages to accomplish his goals and objectives. The story commences with the portrayal of marriage as a burden in the eyes of Dr.  Solomon. Dr. Solomon was basically a Jew who initially used to reside in Poland where his family was killed in the holocaust that was enforced by Hitler.  

(Holocaust here refers to the extermination of Jews by German Nazis in the rule of Hitler. This means that Jews were killed on a large scale by the Nazis under the supervision of Hitler). Dr.  Solomon ultimately escaped to America along with the other Jews who survived the holocaust. In America, Dr. Solomon had been appointed as the board member of a Jewish scholastic society and co-editor of an academic Jewish quarterly. However, the brutal treatment that was imposed on his family in Poland had an adverse impact on the mind of Dr.  Solomon, he seemed to have lost his faith in humanity and the fear of death often used to haunt him.  Also, Dr.  Solomon often used to keep thinking about his past memories, his first love, Raizel, who was a beautiful Jewish girl and the daughter of a Jewish watch – maker, Melekh. He also recalled that Raizel got married to someone else which disheartened him at that time but she and her entire family was later killed by Nazis. This thought further used to intensify his depressive tendencies.  Dr.  Solomon’s wife, Gretl, was also a German, but she was anti - Nazis. Dr.  Solomon used to treat rabbis, refugees and Jewish writers without charging any money from them and he also used to provide medicines and hospital beds to them in case of necessity. Dr.  Solomon and Gretl used to live a life of simplicity and modesty. Gretl used to manage all the household chores herself without ever thinking of appointing a maid or helper. Sometimes, Dr.  Solomon used to ponder about the transformation of his wife from a German blonde to a Jewish home – maker. Even after originally being a German, Gretl had begun to embrace Jewish culture and befriend Jewish women. This was primarily because one of Gretl’s brothers was killed by the Nazis, merely because he was a communist and he opposed the idea of exterminating (killing on a large scale ) the Jews. The story further begins to unfold. A Jewish wedding was about to happen in a town, that is, Brownsville and Dr.  Solomon had been invited to attend that wedding ceremony. The wedding ceremony was of Sylvia, daughter of Abraham Mekheles, an acquaintance of Dr.  Solomon. Abraham Mekheles was a Senciminer, that is, he too belonged to Sencimin (a small town in Poland) just like Dr.  Solomon. However, Dr.  Solomon was hesitant in attending that wedding ceremony because he was making attempts to distance himself from the Jewish community. This is because Dr.  Solomon had begun to feel that the Jews did not maintain the trueness of their culture after they had gone to America. Dr.  Solomon used to feel that the Jews were breaking their cultural legacy, for instance, Jewish men had started consuming alcohol in excess. This drove Dr.  Solomon away from his own community. Gretl noticed her husband’s aloofness from his own community. But since Dr.  Solomon occupied a prominent position in Jewish community, he finally decided to attend the wedding ceremony in Brownsville. He hired a taxi to reach Brownsville. Suddenly, the taxi in which Dr.  Solomon was going to Brownsville, stopped abruptly and Dr.  Solomon witnessed that an accident had taken place on that road. A man was being taken on a stretcher and Dr.  Solomon apparently seemed to recognize that person. Nevertheless, the driver again started driving the taxi and finally, Dr.  Solomon reached the wedding destination, that is, Brownsville. Upon reaching there, he discovered that the wedding venue was full of mirth and festivity, ladies were dancing around and people were getting drunk.  He came across Zissel, a person from his hometown, who narrated the old stories that described the brutal way in which the Jews were killed by the Nazis.  He described that the Jews were compelled (forced ) by the Nazis to dig their own graves and then those Jews were shot and buried in the graves that were dug by themselves. Many Jews were starved to death, burnt alive and many were transported to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland which had over 40 extermination camps. Each camp was filled with poisonous gases in order to kill the Jews mercilessly. 

Dr.  Solomon felt suffocated when he recalled the animalistic ways in which the members of his community were killed and suddenly, he saw the face of a lady amidst the chaos of people. When he tried to get closer to that lady in order to recall who she was, that lady turned out to be his long – lost love, Raizel. He 

went ahead to confront Raizel and shockingly discovered that it was not a dream rather Raizel was really there at the wedding venue. The old romance between Dr.  Solomon and Raizel rekindled. Dr.  Solomon held the hand of Raizel and took her away from the crowd of people. Dr.  Solomon’s act of taking Raizel away from the crowd of people metaphorically depicts that Dr.  Solomon did not want to lose Raizel amidst the chaos of life all over again. A thought came to Dr.  Solomon that he was still single according to Jewish Law as he got married to Gretl in a civil ceremony.  Therefore, he took Raizel in a secluded place and expressed his desire to get married to her. He needed only a penny (currency ) in order to get married to her.  However, when he searched for his wallet in his breast pocket, he was surprised to discover that he had lost it. Moreover, suddenly it occurred to him that Raizel seemed much younger than the way she should have looked. Dr.  Solomon started feeling devoid of life, he was not able to feel the weight of his body and his body seemed to be deflated as if his body did not exist. This made Dr.  Solomon wonder whether the accident and the body laid on the stretcher that he witnessed on his way to Brownsville (on Eastern Parkway ) was his own accident and his own body. Dr.  Solomon was perplexed and wondered whether he was really alive or it was only his soul that was floating on Earth in order to seek his long – lost love. He also wondered whether Raizel was real or she was just a figment of imagination. The story ends on the note of this ambiguity and finally, Abraham Mekheles led his daughter, Sylvia, down the aisle for her wedding ceremony. 


  1. Impact Of Holocaust On The Psyche of The Survivors: One of the important themes of this short story is that the holocaust survivors often go through a psychological breakdown and are likely to live in a state of despair throughout their lives because the brutal memories of their past continue to haunt them forever.  For instance, in this story, the central character, that is, Dr.  Solomon was never able to recover from his sorrowful memories in which his family and his beloved, Raizel got slaughtered at the hands of the Nazis under the dictatorship of Hitler.

  2. Surrealism: Surrealism in literature basically refers to the presentation of a story in such a way that it starts resembling a dream. In this story, Issac has used ambiguity in order to present a fantastical possibility of the reunion of Dr. Solomon and his long – lost love, Raizel. He presented this possibility by creating two conditions in the minds of his readers : either Dr. Solomon died in the car accident at Eastern Park and his wandering soul reunited with the wandering soul of his beloved, Raizel OR Dr. Solomon was in a state of hallucination which made him imagine his reunion with Raizel amidst the chaos of life. Both these conditions are unrealistic, dream – like and fantastical and therefore, these conditions give a touch of surrealism to the story.

  3. The Unbreakable Chains of A Void That Can Never Be Filled: Issac has depicted the fact that there are some voids in the lives of human beings that can never be filled by anything or anyone. In this story, Dr. Solomon led a life hollowness and emptiness because of the loss of his family and his beloved during a holocaust. This made him miserable with the passage of time and he was never able to restore himself to a life of genuine bliss even after becoming a successful doctor and occupying a prominent position in the Jewish society. All his professional accomplishments and all the ranks that he achieved in the Jewish community ultimately proved worthless because they did not help him in getting rid of his deep – seated depression and his insurmountable (something that cannot be overcome) void.

  4. The Submergence or The Loss Of True Identity in a Foreign Place: Finally, Issac has pointed out to the fact that people often tend to lose their true identities when they migrate to a foreign place. For instance, in this story, Dr. Solomon drove himself away from his own Jewish community because Jews adapted themselves to the culture of America and developed habits like drinking and dancing in order to celebrate their happiness. These habits were condemned in Judaism and the inability of the Jewish community to retain the principles of their religion represent the loss of their true identity.



QUESTION 1. What do you understand of Dr. Margolin’s past? How does it affect his present life?

ANSWER: Dr. Margolin’s past was a mixture of recognition and grief. As a child, he was declared a prodigy. Everyone thought he would grow up to be a genius. But he also faced hardships. His entire family had been tortured, burned and gassed. He had lost his one true love, Raizel. All this shaped Dr. Margolin’s present state of mind. He had grown aloof from the Senciminers after the loss of his family. He suffered from hypochondria ad fear of death. The death of his family and his love in the reign of Hitler made him lose faith in humanity. However, on the other hand, he had a good career. He was a success in his profession. He had an office in West End Avenue and wealthy patients. He was highly respected by his colleagues and everyone else.

QUESTION 2. What was Dr. Margolin’s attitude towards his profession?

ANSWER: Dr. Margolin has always been loyal towards his profession. He had never broken the Hippocratic Oath and had always been honourable with his patients. He was an enormous success in his field and is highly respected. Although he has wealthy patients, he treated rabbis, refugees and Jewish writers without any charge, and even supplied them with medicines and a hospital bed, if necessary. However, Hitler’s reign and the brutal death of his family and his community made him despise the matrons who came to him for petty ills while millions faced horrible deaths.

QUESTION 3. What is Dr. Margolin’s view of the kind of life the American Jewish community leads?

ANSWER: The kind of life the American Jewish community led was not appreciated by Dr. Margolin. According to him, Jewish laws and customs were completely distorted. Those who had no regard for Jewishness wore skullcaps. He even found their celebrations irritating, the Anglicised Yiddish, the Yiddishised English, the ear-splitting music and unruly dances. He was ashamed whenever he took his wife to a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah.

QUESTION 4. What were the personality traits that endeared Dr. Margolin to others in his community?

ANSWER: Dr. Margolin was a self-taught man, a son of a poor teacher of Talmud. As a child, he was declared as a prodigy, reciting long passages of the bible and studying Talmud and commentaries on his own. He even taught himself geometry and algebra. At the age of seventeen, he attempted a translation. He was referred to as great and illustrious. As a doctor he was always available to other community members, was very social and involved himself in other community activities to promote Yiddish language and Jewish culture. This endeared Dr. Margolin to others in his community.

QUESTION 5. Why do you think Dr. Margolin had the curious experience at the wedding hall?

ANSWER: Dr. Margolin experience at the wedding hall was a result of his death. The write has tried to showcase the Jewish sentiments through the metaphysical experience of Dr. Margolin. He met with an accident on the way to the wedding. His curious and mysterious encounter with Raizel could probably be explained through his past. Raizel was his one true love who he never had a chance to marry. She was given away to someone else and was later shot by the Nazis.

QUESTION 6. Was the encounter with Raizel an illusion or was the carousing at the wedding-hall illusory? Was Dr. Margolin the victim of the accident and was his astral body hovering in the world of twilight?

ANSWER: The carousing at the wedding-hall was illusionary. Raizel herself has been dead for long and her encounter with Dr. Margolin was because of his own death. He was the victim of the accident and his astral body was hovering in the world of twilight. Both were missing a physical dimension, and in fact, were spirits.


QUESTION 1. Surrealism was an artistic and literary movement in France between the two World Wars. Its basic idea is that the automatic, illogical and uncontrolled associations of the mind represent a higher reality than the world of practical life and ordinary literature. Do you think this story could be loosely classified as surrealistic? What elements in this story would support the idea?

ANSWER: Yes, this story could be loosely classified as surrealistic. The ending is an element of such surrealism. Dr. Margolin is in absence of a physical dimension and yet the story shows him to be participating in the wedding, dancing, drinking, chatting with guests, etc. His encounter with Raizel, his one true love who was shot by Nazis also stands out to explain surrealism.

QUESTION 2: Comment on the technique used by the author to convey the gruesome realities of the war and its devastating effect on the psyche of human beings through an intense personal experience.

ANSWER: The author uses banter at the wedding and the conversation between the guests to portray the realities of the war. At the wedding party, people are shown to be conversing with each other and with Dr. Margolin about the deaths of their family and the destruction of their community. Through this, the author used an unusual and an uncommon way of showcasing the realities of the war in the story.


Q1. Who were the Senciminers?

ANSWER: Senciminers were the native Jewish inhabitants of the town Sencimin. They were however forced to leave the town because it was destroyed by the Germans. Many Senciminers were tortured, burned and gassed, however, few survived and escaped to America from the camps.

Q2. Why did Dr. Margolin not particularly want his wife to accompany him to the wedding?

ANSWER: Dr. Margolin didn’t want his wife to accompany him to the wedding because he was ashamed of the mess that the American Judaism was. Every time he took his wife to a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah, he had to make apologies to her. However, this time he was relieved of it.

Q3. What is the Hippocratic oath?

ANSWER: The Hippocratic Oath is an oath usually taken by doctors to swear their loyalty to their profession. The protagonist, being a doctor himself, says that he has never broken the oath and that he has always been honourable towards his patients.

Q4. What topic does the merry banter the wedding invariably lead to?

ANSWER: The merry banter at the wedding invariably lead to the mentioning of the deaths of the Senciminers. Every conversation eventually led to that and occasionally, the protagonist found himself being asked about his own family and their death.

Q5. Who was the woman that Dr Margolin suddenly encountered at the wedding?

ANSWER: The woman that Dr Margolin encountered was his one great love, Raizel, the daughter of Melekh the watchman. He, however, had no luck with her and couldn’t marry her. The last time Dr Margolin heard of her was that she married someone else and was later shot by the Nazis.

Q6. What were the events that led to his confused state of mind?

ANSWER: Dr Margolin started to realize that something is wrong when he noticed that his wallet was missing but wasn’t sure how he could have lost it. He also couldn’t understand the fact that Raizel looked too young and he thought that maybe she was her daughter, trying to mock him.