Contributions to Society and It's Effects-Comparing "In Cold Blood" and "My Name Is Asher Lev"

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Contributions to Society and its Effects

Truman Capote’s characters, Perry Smith and Dick Hancock, used in one of his most famous works In Cold Blood, find ways in which their contributions to society, within their personal lives as well as in their surrounding community, leads them to a fatal state of regret, remorse and actuality, all of which were consequences caused by their very own actions and decisions. Chaim Potok, author of My Name is Asher Lev, creates a similar theme of his characters’ ways of contributing to society. Although with a different community and individuality of the characters, both works establish a set of contributions and unexpected reactions of the two communities for each.

Truman’s characters, Perry and Dick, provided their contribution to society and a Texas community by murdering the Clutter family. Upon hearing the news of the murder of the “perfect” family, who many would describe as being “‘real fond of Herb and Bonnie [Clutter]… and saw them every Sunday at church, and even if [one] hadn’t known the family, and liked them so well, [they] wouldn’t feel any [less sad]’” (Capote 80), members of the community feel insecure, unprotected and eventually come to the realization of reality that they are in fact not all perfect individuals living in a perfect community. The people in the Clutters’ small Texas community look down upon both Perry and Dick without even knowing that they were the murderers at the time, simply because they committed a crime that caused heartache and sorrow to those who knew the family. Asher Lev – a devout Hasidic, orthodox Jew – was in a similar situation with his own community but did not commit a literal crime, like murder. As devout as he was to his religion, Asher became even more devoted to art and painted his first painting that happened to be a crucifixion, despite the ideology that “observant Jews do paint crucifixions. As a matter of fact, observant Jews do not paint at all – in the way that [he was painting]” (Potok 3). Once exposed to his community, Asher, along with his painting, was criticized with all different reasons; some of which stated that he was going against all of the rules and morals a Jew was expected to possess: devotion to God and religion, respect for one’s parents, oneself, and fellow Jewish community members. Asher tells the reader about his parents, Aryeh, his father, and Rivkeh, his mother, who was most effected and disturbed by their son’s painting and how he was scolded by both about how they do not want him to behave the way “a goy behaves…. The people of the sitra achra behave this way. They are evil and from the Other Side. Jews do not behave this way” (Potok 4). These cold words and feelings towards Asher make him feel neglected and not favored in the community and, to everyone’s dismay, would eventually lead Asher to continue this “disrespectful” artwork because it was the only way in which he was able to express himself.

Whether it was the illegal crimes the characters committed or the disappointment of the community regarding an individual’s insolence in connection with their religion, both instances led to a different kind of satisfaction, or happiness. Once Perry and Dick completed the murder, a sense of gratification came over the two due to their accomplishment of getting away with murdering an entire family. Happiness in Asher’s eyes came about in a different, more optimistic, way. Because of the communities’ disapproval of Asher’s paintings and disappointment in him as fellow Jew, Asher developed a way of thought in which helped him disregard almost all aspects of what he was once taught and to focus strictly on art. Jacob Kahn, a talented artist as well as a Ladover Jewish community member, was not only the main influence on Asher’s paintings, but as well as the basis for Asher’s way of thought and his attitude towards those in the community unfavorable of him, including his father. Asher and Kahn were very fond...
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