Part I: Children of the Ghetto


What do you think may be the background/meaning of the title, "The Children of the Ghetto: A Study of a Peculiar People"? What is meant by "peculiar"? Why might a Jewish author have spoken thus about his own ethnic group?
Why does the author call attention to a "people" rather than an individual? Who is the novel's protagonist?
What was the situation of British Jews, and why had they moved to East London?
Who seems to be Zangwill's intended audience? How can you tell?
What is his purpose in writing? (to commemorate a passing culture)
What are features of the tone of the preface? Did any surprise you? What seems to be the author's attitude towards the life he is describing? (61, blending of realism and romance)

Chapter 1: The Bread of Affliction
In what circumstances is Esther Ansell introduced? What do we learn about her character? What problems does she face at school and at home? Do these remind you of those of other characters in novels you have encountered?
What is the effect of the chapter’s contrasts between rich and poor?

Chapter 2: The Sweater
What attitude towards marriage and ethnic divisions are revealed at the Belcovitch family wedding? To what do they attribute the survival of their daughter? (82)
What gentle sarcasms are directed by the narrator against Jewish scholarship (89)
Why do you think “the sweater” is presented in a family setting?
What are Bear Belcovitch’s virtues and limitations? (93)

Chapter 3: Malka
What is Malka’s attitude toward her former brother-in-law Moses Ansell? What are her own family relationships? Her views on religion?
How are neighborhood relationships characterized in this chapter?
What does Malka disapprove of in Moses’ conduct toward his children?
What orthodox views of women does Moses proclaim? (106)
What ironies inhere in the fact that she is so impressed with Moses' piety that she provides him with five shillings? (he has used Jewish law to argue that her sister's death was less important than that of a man)

Chapter 4: The Redemption of the Son and the Daughter
What do we learn of Malka’s husband Michael? (108) What are her attitudes toward childbearing? (109)
To what does the chapter title refer?
What other characters are introduced in this chapter? (Reb Shemuel’s wife and daughter Hannah, Myriam Hyams and her father) How are Myriam and Hannah contrasted? (113)
Why does the narrator suggest a poem to fried fish? (115) Is he sincere?
What problem does Sam Levin inadvertently cause by not handing his engagement ring immediately to his fianceé? Who decides that he is legally married under Jewish law? (117) What solution is proposed?
What may be some reasons for the author’s creation of this incident? What contrasts in Jewish communities does it revea

Chapter 5: The Pauper Alien
What has been the history of Moses Ansell and his family? What had been the character and temperament of Gittell Ansell? How did her death affect the family? (she had been the more skeptical, 123)
What problems does Moses’ mother add to his life?
Of which aspects of conservative orthodox Jewish culture does the narrative voice seem to disapprove? (129)

Chapter 6: “Reb” Shemuel
What are the rabbi’s good traits? What anxieties preoccupy his wife? How does Levi respond to the discussion of Hannah’s possible marriage? (135) What views does Hannah express of the marriage market? (135) Why doesn’t she wish to marry? (135)
What prescriptions limit the Jacobs’ life? (136)

Chapter 7: Neo-Hebrew Poet
How is the reader expected to respond to Melchisedek Pinchas? How is he satirized? (139)
What is the purpose of inserting the exchange of jokes? Of what do they make fun? (143)
What is the relationship of Hannah and her father? How do they differ in their views of the marriage by proxy? (145) What quarrel is resolved by the Rabbi? (146)

Chapter 8: Esther and her Children
What do we learn in this chapter about the character of the Ansell children, especially Esther? (199, serious, responsible) What traits are possessed by Solomon?
What does Esther learn in school? (Anglization, 152)
How does Moses entertain his children? (reads to them, explains the Law)

Chapter 9: Dutch Debby
What problems have overcome Dutch Debby? (born an illegitimate child, 160, an isolated needlewoman)
Why do she and Esther become close? (she is kind to Esther, permits her to read her magazines, 160) What form of reading does she introduce to Esther? (stories in the London Journal)
Why does Esther feel reluctant to aspire to the life of a teacher? (isn’t wealthy enough, 162)
What light do her anecdotes shed on the priorities of Myriam Hyams, her teacher?
How does Zangwill satirize romance literature in this chapter? (163)
What causes Esther to visit with Debby less often? (Her father disapproves. She has to tend her siblings and doesn’t want to take food.)

Chapter 10: A Silent Family
How is Sugarman the matchmaker presented? (166, tries to sell lottery tickets) Why does Mrs. Hyams not wear the traditional wig of her background?
What do we learn of Daniel Hyams? (167) Why can’t he marry Bessie Sugarman, whom he loves? (168) (the fact that he can't work on Saturday limits his income)
What emotions seethe in the Hyams family? What misunderstandings fail to be clarified? (169, 170) Why can’t the father be employed? (169, to maintain status)
What are their respective goals? (Mendel, to die in Jerusalem, 170)

Chapter 11: The Purim Ball
What happens at the Purim Ball? What draws David Brandon and Hannah to each other? To what restlessness does Hannah confess? (constrained, 178, tired of kosher rules) What are David’s views on orthodox Judaism? (179)

Chapter 12: The Sons of the Covenant
Who are the “sons of the covenant”? (183, 185)
What points of view are represented in their assemblage?
Does the narrative make any implied criticism of their behavior toward their preacher? (they underpay him, 188) What is humorous about the Shamnos’ offer? What sad event do we learn of soon afterwards? (he has died, funeral procession followed by a large crowd)
What value judgments seem placed on the rabbinical scholars in their midst, such as Karlkammer? (he is parodied for his concern with niceties of ritual, such as the pronunciation of a vowel)
Which generation seems most involved in their plans?

Chapter 13: Sugarman’s Bar-Mitzvah Party
What type of conversation occurs at the party? (194 gossip, jokes, sly appropriation of extra food)
What do we learn about the scholars Gabriel Hamburg and Joseph Strelitski?
Why does the latter not accept the former’s offer of patronage? (pride, 197; sad, ships pass in the night)
Why did Sugarman tell his wife she should have had a fourth uncle? (199)

Chapter 14: The Hope of the Family
What changes have occurred in Benjamin Ansell’s values during his absence from home? (ashamed of his family, chiefly concerned about status)
What has he forgotten? (Yiddish, Hebrew)
How does his reaction to his family reflect the difficulties of adjustment in a new land? (he’s selfish, ungrateful, 204, ashamed of his parents, 206)
What fixed idea dominates the grandmother's view of her son? (believes that all women in the vicinity wish to marry him) Why is this ironic? (he's a poor peddler with a large family)
What form of assimilation does Benjamin object to in Esther? (she speaks Yiddish, reads the New Testament) What seem to be their different forms of rebellion against the old ways?
What New Testament allusion slips from Esther in speaking of her brother's return, and how is this appropriate? How is it received by other family members?

Chapter 15: The Holy Land League
Who are some of the founders of London Zionism? What different factions or points of view are represented by their speeches? Who is finally voted president? (Guedalyah the greengrocer)
How is Pinchas undercut? (wants to restablish polygamy, 215) Would he be a good husband for Hannah? (vain and egotistical)
Judging from this book, what do you think may have been Zangwill’s own reaction to Zionism?

Chapter 16: The Courtship of Shosshi Shnendrik
Why does Shosshi’s courtship of Bessie Belcovitch fail? How does his second courtship with the widow Finklestein succeed?
What seems the point of including this story? (slapstick, the schemiel unexpectedly succeeds by accident)

Chapter 17: The Hymans’ Honeymoon
On what grounds does Myriam object to Daniel’s relationship with Bessie Sugarman? (238)
Why hasn’t Mendel Hyman been able to work as a stone mason in England? (241)
What expedient does he frame for helping his children? (242)
What is revealed by the fact that his children can’t read a Hebrew letter? (243) What is revealed of the children’s character in their respective partings? (245)
Why is Mendel Hymans dissatisfied with Jerusalem? (246)
Where do the author’s/text’s sympathies lie in this family saga? (Zangwill's narrator sympathizes with dutiful children, but points out their sacrifices)

Chapter 18: The Hebrew’s Friday Night
What is Pinchas’ attitude toward his fellow Zionists? (247)
How do the Rabbi’s family celebrate the Sabbath? (249, feed a poor stranger)
How do Hannah and her father each respond to Pinchas’ marriage proposal? (253)
How does her father react to the news of her desire to marry David Brandon? (253)
How are Hannah’s emotions of love described? (255)
What seems unusual about the narrator's claim that while the words of other cultures survive only in word and stone, the Hebrew word was alone made flesh? (257, uses New Testament locution to describe Jews)

Chapter 19: With the Strikers
How does Pinchas react to the rejection of his marriage proposal? (258)
What are the goals of the strikers, as presented by their leader Simon Wolf? (260, wishes more food tickets for the unemployed)
What advice does Pinchas give him? (261, he should pretend to appeal to the orthodox) What does this show about his character? (261, hypocrite)
What are the strikers’ demands? Why has Moses Ansell joined them? (263, unemployed) What events disrupt the meeting, and how are these ironic? (268, Pinchas smokes, offending the orthodox, 267; bursts into invective)

Chapter 20: The Hope Extinct
Under what circumstances does Benjamin Ansell die?
What are some notable aspects of Moses Ansell’s preparations for visiting his dying son? (271, prays first)
What are especially sad features of his death? (father and son cannot understand each other, teacher afraid to translate and thus reveal his knowledge of Yiddish)
To what emotions and language does Benjamin return before his death? (275, father joins him in final ritual)
Are there parallels between the fates of Benjamin and Leonard? What effect does their defection from the practices of their background have upon their respective sisters?

Chapter 21: The Jargon Players
What are the subjects of Pinchas’ play? (satirizes all his enemies) What is its fate? (281, flops)

Chapter 22: “For Auld Lang Syne, My Dear”
What are some customs and practices associated with the East End Passover?
What loss perturbs Esther? (theft of money needed for celebration)

Chapter 23: The Dead Monkey
What is the story of the dead monkey, and how may it relate to the events of the chapter? (Esther receives money despite cattiness of her mother's cousin)
What characterizes the bartering and bargaining described? (287, comic exaggeration and expression)
What misfortune happens to Esther? Is it partially retrieved? (288, chides Malka for not visiting when her brother died)
Who is kind to her in her distress? (David Brandon comforts her and gives her money)

Chapter 24: The Shadow of Religion
What are some possible meanings of "shadow" in the title of this chapter?
What characterizes the Rabbi’s welcome of David Brandon into his home?
What “shadow of religion” breaks everyone’s satisfaction? What protest is made by David? (303) (a Cohen cannot marry a divorced woman)
What absurdities are inherent in the application of this "law"? (David is not a priest nor Hannah a divorced woman)
How do David, Hannah, and the Rabbi each respond to the alleged crisis? How does Hannah respond to the moment of choice? (205, tells David she needs time to decide what to do)

Chapter 25: Seder Night
What Passover celebrations did the Ansells manage?
When they meet, what do David Brandon and Hannah each suggest as a method of dealing with their situation? (he wants them to be married by another rabbi in England or the United States; she suggests a non-Jewish marriage)
What do they finally agree on? (311, to elope with him to America)
What form of religion does she wish for them to practice? (one devoid of daily rules and rituals)
How does Hannah feel on this Passover night? (Passover allegorizes her own departure, 315)
Why in the end does she refuse to elope with David Brandon? (318, her father so unhappy at the defection of his son, hates to wound her parents)
What vision of her future does she foretell? (316, description of her pain)
How does the first section of the book end? (father's final ritual imprecation upon heathen, 319) What problems have been left for later resolution?
Might there have been other options for dealing with situation? (could have defied parents but lived near them to provide care or affection)

"Children of the Ghetto," part II

Chapter 1: “The Christmas Dinner”

What is the significance of the title?
What points are raised in the conversation about “Edward Armitage”? (the novel is a roman a clef; it is criticized for using Yiddish) What might have been Zangwill’s reactions to the criticisms made of him? [325, It has been suggested that the response to Amy Levy’s Reuben Sachs may have inspired these scenes.]
What is the significance of the contrast made between Mordecai Josephs and Daniel Deronda? What implicit criticism may Zangwill be making of George Eliot’s treatment of the Zionist issue? (334, too idealized)
How do they respond to the notion of intermarriage? (335) Who propounds a counterargument? (Sidney argues that one may disregard the Law in company with either a Jew or a Christian--he himself is courting a non-Jew)
What do we learn of the character and occupation of Sidney Graham? (327, an artist) Why has he changed his name? Are we expected to agree with his opinions? (his thrusts are generally correct but he lacks conviction)
What view is expressed by Raphael? Is it telling that most of those who are criticizing the book have not read it?
What do you make of the fact that the Jewish people at the party attempt to avoid holidaying near their fellow Jews? (337, contrast East Enders, who remain together)

Chapter 2: “Raphael Leon”

What do we learn of Esther’s life since childhood? Did she enjoy her life as a teacher? (344, no) What reasons are given for her changes in outlook?
How has she ended up in the West End? (is patronized by wealthy sponsor)
What is added to the plot by the fact that her father and siblings have been sent to the United States? (345) (relieves her of a burden since they are successful, leaves her alone, provides motive for her later departure for the United States)
What symbolism is embedded in Raphael Leon’s name? What plans does he make for his new newspaper? (to offer a modern, spiritual, but orthodox voice)

Chapter 3: “The Flag of Judah”
Under what circumstances is Raphael made editor? What are some comic features of the selection process? (he is offered no salary)
What are some suggestions offered him for filling up the newspaper?

Chapter 4: “The Troubles of the Editor”
What troubles are referred to in the title? What are some humorous aspects of the portrayal of Pinchas?
Why do you think Raphael includes his poem? (he believes Pinchas's poetry to be good, sponsors his travel)
May there be autobiographical features in the portrayal of Raphael? (Zangwill had edited the Jewish Standard)

Chapter 5: “A Woman’s Growth”
About what subjects do Esther and Raphael debate? What type of material will she write for his newspaper? (reviews)
On what basis does he criticize “Edward Armitage”?
What old childhood acquaintance comes for dinner? Why does Esther dislike Joseph Strelitski?

Chapter 6: “Comedy or Tragedy”
To what does the title of the chapter refer? What does Esther learn about Leonard James when she meets him again? How has he behaved toward his family?
What has been the outcome of his legal apprenticeship? (396) How have his actions affected his sister?
Under what conditions do we learn of Sidney’s engagement, and to whom is he engaged?
Why does Raphael not join his friends at the theater? What effect does Raphael’s presence seem to have on his friends?

Chapter 7: “What the Years Brought”
On what grounds has Esther’s book been hostilely reviewed?
What is the nature of Leonard James’ courtship of Esther? Does she consider him a likely prospect for a husband?
How does he respond to her rejection? (flies into a rage and insults her)
To what does the title of the chapter refer?

Chapter 8: “The End of a Generation”
What important ritual does Leonard forget? Under what circumstances does his father encounter him, and how does Leonard react? (jumps into a hansom and shakes him off)
What do you make of Leonard’s explanation to his companion, and her response? What does this incident show about Leonard’s sense of priorities?

Chapter 9: “The ‘Flag’ Flutters”
How successful is the newspaper, and on what grounds? (412) What kinds of positions are taken by its editorial voice?
What points may Zangwill be making about the difficulties of editing a good yet partisan newspaper?
What roles do his subeditor and Pinchas play in Raphael's woes?
What prompts Esther to visit the newspaper office?

Chapter 10: “Esther Defies the Universe”
What radical step has Esther determined to take, and why? Why has she become disillusioned with her life at the Goldsmiths?
What information does she give Raphael as she bids him farewell?

Chapter 11: “Going Home”
What is in the letter Esther leaves for Mrs. Goldsmith?
What startling act does she commit? (burns her verse)
What is the significance of her decision to revisit the ghetto in which she was raised?

Chapter 12: “A Sheaf of Sequels”
Whom does she meet in the ghetto? Which persons are genuinely glad to see her?
What has happened to Dutch Debby and Hannah? How have her relationships been altered by the intervening years?

Chapter 13: “The Dead Monkey Again”
To what does the title refer? What gain has Esther achieved, and at what cost?
What do we learn from the description of the charities in which Hannah and Esther engage?

Chapter 14: “Sidney Settles Down”
Why couldn’t Sidney marry his Methodist betrothed? What are the ideological implications of his change of heart?
Is his new marriage likely to be a congenial one? (marries happily within his community)

Chapter 15:  “From Soul to Soul”
Why does Strelinski decide to resign his job as a minister? What are his new ambitions? (wishes to emigrate and found a new religion of peace)
What is unusual about these new goals? To what extent do you think they may have resembled Zangwill’s own?
What is Srelinski’s view of Zionism? (475-77, rejects Zionism in favor of an inner vision)
What event changes Raphael’s plans? On what pretext is he fired, and by whom? (Harry Goldsmith)

Chapter 16: “Love’s Temptation”
Why in this instance is love seen as a temptation?
Where does Raphael encounter Esther, and what ideals for Judaism does he express to her? (487) Of what plans does she inform him? (leaving for US)
Who else will be leaving, and with what purpose? (Strelitski is emigrating to preach a universal Judaism, 489)
How does Esther respond to Raphael’s romantic overtures and his proposal? (490-91) What emotions may lie behind her reluctance?

Chapter 17:  “The Prodigal Son”
What important emotional truth does Hannah tell her father, and under what circumstances?
What is the significance of the final reconciliation between Levi and his father? What contradictions have been exemplified in Levi’s life and death?
What parallels and contrasts do you find between this scene and other deathbed reconciliations in the book? In the roles performed by sons and daughters?
To what does the chapter title refer? (New Testament parable)

Chapter 18: “Hopes and Dreams”
What symbolism is associated with Esther’s attendance of Yom Kippur?
Do you augur anything from the fact that Strelitski catches her when she faints?
What seems to be the tone and meaning of the ending? What is added by the fact that Raphael and Esther have pledged their love? Does it seem likely that they will be reunited?
Within the context of the novel, what seems the significance of the fact that Esther leaves for Chicago?
Does the book end on a note of hope? Is it appropriate that the ending be open-ended?


What is the effect of the extensive use of details of Jewish ceremonies and ritual throughout? (creates a binding effect)

What view does the author give of courtship and marriage? What do we learn about the characters of those who marry?

How would you characterize Zangwill's style? What forms of allusions appear frequently in the text? (to Talmudic and Eastern European lore, to Christian sayings and English literature)

How does it resemble/differ from that of Victorian authors such as Gaskell, Eliot or Hardy? What values seem embodied in the authorial voice?

What purpose is served by the embedded jokes throughout? What are some typical instances of ethnic humor?

What are some parallels between the themes of this novel and others you have read? What are some of its distinctive traits?

How does this novel seem to reflect values of the fin de siecle or of early modernism? How can you tell it was written after the mid-Victorian period?

How does Zangwill’s treatment of religion in this novel compare with that of other major Victorian novelists? If there are major differences, how do you account for them?

Are there issues raised by the novel which are still relevant in contemporary society? e. g. law vs. spirit/ assimilation vs. ethnicity
generational differences under stress