Such relationships in childhood begin with the parents, and for Asher, these early relationships are also significant later, as might be expected.
However, as Potok shows in this novel, for someone like Asher, the importance of childhood bonds and of later intimate bonds are themselves stressed by cultural conflicts between the Hasidic community in its isolation and the larger American society surrounding it. For Asher, the conflict is between the more controlled religious environment of the community and the more liberal environment of the art world he joins. What Potok shows about this particular conflict might seem very different from what others experience, others who are not part of such a strict religious background and who are not artists. However, children always find a conflict between the circumscribed world of their immediate family and the world they join as they strike out on their own. This conflict is often portrayed in terms of different time periods, with the parents tied to a past that the children see as no longer applicable, while the parents see their children interacting with a world that is new in many ways and that the parents may not fully understand.
This sort of conflict is generational, and how it affects development differs from theory to theory. Bruner (1986) points out that there are many different ways of explaining the same processes and the same outcome:
To take an example, all theories must choose a particular way of dealing with the balance between, let us say, inner and outer determination of developmental change. Piaget (1952) deals with it as a resultant balance of the processes of assimilation and accommodation. Freud emphasizes a number of quite different processes — like the compromise of an earlier primary pleasure principle and a later secondary reality one, or the requirement of maintaining defenses that will both inhibit unacceptable impulses and yet permit their expression in a symptomatic if hidden manner. Werner (1948) is more complicated than either of the others and proposes that inner and outer determination operate jointly at all phases of growth, however syncretic, however lacking in overall integration (Bruner, 1986, p. 19).
Part of the reality is that “we create an environment by the invocation of symbolic texts that stand as constituted realities. By the use of principally linguistic means — performatives, presuppositional loadings, and other pragmatic devices as well as by the use of myths and other ontic devices — we create an implicit world such as we think one ought to be. As Geertz puts it, we create public meanings to which we then insist upon adhering. When we are in doubt about the particulars, we negotiate explicit versions of implicit meanings” (Bruner, 1986, p. 21). Ashers parents and others in the community do this from an adult perspective and then expect that the child will accept what he is told about these symbolic texts. They may then be disconcerted and even antagonistic when the child does not do this but instead brings his own experiences, both internal and external, to a different interpretation of these texts. Asher would do this as a matter of course, but he does this even more deeply because of his particular artistic sensibilities. These sensibilities were noted by his mother while his much-traveled father was away working for the Rebbe, and she helped in his personal development by buying him materials for his drawing and painting. This increased his conflict with his farther and the community once the father returned, for the father saw Ashers gift as demonic, an idea increased when his son would draw unclothed figures and other subjects the father saw as non-religious.
Interestingly, while the Rebbe at first agrees with the father, he changes his view and sees the gift as something that needs to be developed, which is why he puts the boy in touch with the non-observant Jew artist Jacob Kahn. Kahn himself has been shaped by the same community that is shaping Asher, and he also demonstrates in his denial of that community how a cultural conflict develops and influences the decisions made and the way the artist expresses a view of the world. The way the community reacts to and influences Asher shows that Asher also has an effect on the community. He clearly affects the Rebbe. The community affects the boy not only in his early development but later, for he always carries with him the effects of his upbringing and of the interaction he had with the community.
As one group of researchers into developmental issues notes, this happens as “people [are] engaged in sociocultural endeavors with other people, working with and extending cultural tools and practices inherited from previous generations. As groups of people develop through their shared involvement, they also contribute to transforming the cultural tools, practices and institutions of the activities in which they engage” (Rogoff and Chavajay, 1995, p. 871). Individuals also have that sort of effect, and the influence of the artist is magnified through the work he or she producers and the reaction of others to that work. This is a lesson Asher learns as he begins to express himself more fully in his works, aided in his development by Kahn and the factors that shaped that man early in life and more recently as he has come to terms with the cultural conflicts he has experienced.
Ashers artistic development after meeting Kahn follows much the same course as that of Kahn, and it does so as Asher learns to be true to himself more than to the community. At first, he produces works that make even his father proud, but ultimately he begins to produce works true to his own vision but so outside the community that he is finally banished from it and estranged from the parents he wants so to please as well. The conflict of the budding artist in school and at home is similar to what observers write about other people who try to fit into a community when they are different. In some ases, these differences are cultural, as with children from Korea now living in America (Kim, Kim, & Rue, 1997), Chinese children in America (Lung & Sue, 1997), or Asian children from India (Ranganath & Ranganath, 1997). The differences can be racial, as with children in Harlem in New York (Williams & Kornblum, 1991). The children might be different because of their home background, as in a study by Morrison-Dore, Kauffman, Nelson-Zlupko, & Granfort (1996) of children of families with a history of drug abuse.
Another sort of isolated group is represented in a study by Belkin (2004), who describes the problems faced in the educational system by child suffering from cerebral palsy. His father wanted to assure that his son could fit into a normal classroom, essentially to “find a way to fit into a world that often seems to resist him” (p. 40). The process is called inclusion, meaning to make a person with a disability a part of the class. The process goes beyond mainstreaming by “rearranging the class — both the physical space and the curriculum — to include him” (p. 40).
The sort of difference faced by this child is clearly greater in most respects than anything Asher faced, and the boys differences were physical and clear to all who would meet him. In his case, his mind fit into the culture of the classroom, while his body served as a feature that isolated him and made it more difficult for him. Asher cannot rearrange the classroom or the curriculum to fit his way of thinking, and instead the effort made for him, as with most children, is to change his thinking to fit the class. On some level, society sees education as preparing children to fit into the social order as it exists, and the intent of a sub-group like the Hasidic community in Brooklyn is to prepare children to fit into that particular community, with some concession to the requirements of the larger society outside the community based on law and custom and pressure brought to bear for conformity to, say, accepted American values for a largely secular democracy. Asher does nto rebel against this education so much as come to recognize slowly that part of it does not apply to him and that his particular talent and the mind-set that goes with it is a need not being addressed by the community in which he lives.
Of course, ultimately that community does give the boy a boost when the Rebbe recognizes the value of his talent and introduces him to Kahn. In that sense, Asher is able to reshape the curriculum to meet his needs, though there is always a sense of the forbidden about art because of the attitude of his father more than the Rebbe or anyone else in this community. The way Asher introduces.