Like Wild Birds: Internal Confliction in Englander’s “In This Way We Are Wise” Collie Crawford – Dr. Hollyfield – 4/24/2013
In 1999, author Nathan Englander published a collection of short stories. The Jewish author’s collection is titled: For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, and the last short story of his collection is subtitled: “In This Way We Are Wise.” Most of the collection’s stories focus on fictional events with a Jewish Orthodox setting, but the last short story is more personal to the author, and the main character even shares the author’s name. “In This Way We Are Wise” focuses on the reaction of a Jewish American named Natan to a bombing near the Israeli café he frequents. Natan grew up in the suburbs of America, choosing to immigrate to Israel as an adult. Englander portrays some of the internal conflicts Natan faces in Israel through Natan’s personal actions, reactions, and words to reveal personal issues in religion, adjustment, and social life.
Englander’s “In This Way We Are Wise” portrays a few major internal conflicts within Natan; one such conflict is Natan finding his practical place in social Israeli society. Natan seems to just be slipping and sliding by in his new country of residence. He sips coffee in a café, walks the neighboring streets, and comes home to his girlfriend each evening. There are no depictions of Natan doing any variety of actual work, having any hobbies, or doing anything even halfway considered productive. Natan’s not only unproductive, but he’s described as being unpredictably edgy in the short story. Englander describes Natan’s initial reaction to the bombing as being that of a spectator “watching the people pour around the corner, watching them run” (195), but after the initial terror, he briskly turns from spectator to participant, and he “suddenly need[s] to be near the fire, to be where the ash still settles” (196). These unsociable, indolent characteristics and this abrupt change of heart in Natan are common...
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