My Name Is Asher Lev

Chaim Potok


Welcome to the captivating world of “My Name Is Asher Lev,” a novel that paints the intricate portrait of a young artist’s journey amidst the backdrop of his strict Hasidic Jewish upbringing. 📚✨ Written by the acclaimed author Chaim Potok, this book delves deep into themes of identity, tradition, and the relentless pursuit of one’s calling against all odds.

Chaim Potok, born in 1929 in New York City, was not only a novelist but also a rabbi and philosopher, bringing a rich tapestry of cultural and religious insight into his writing. His own experiences growing up in an Orthodox Jewish family have profoundly influenced his storytelling, making his characters and their dilemmas resonate with authenticity and depth.

“My Name Is Asher Lev” falls into the genre of bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story, where we follow the protagonist, Asher Lev, from his childhood in post-war Brooklyn through his tumultuous journey into adulthood. As we traverse through Asher’s world, we witness his struggle to reconcile his extraordinary gift for painting with the expectations of his community and family.

Potok’s masterpiece is not just a narrative about growing up; it’s a thoughtful exploration of the conflict between individuality and community, the power of art, and the quest for self-expression. Let’s dive into the life of Asher Lev and discover the beauty and the battles that define his existence. 🎨🕍

Plot Summary

“My Name Is Asher Lev” unfolds the life of Asher Lev, a boy born into a devout Hasidic Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Aryeh Lev, is deeply involved in the Jewish community’s leadership, while his mother, Rivkeh, battles the trauma of her brother’s death. From an early age, Asher displays an extraordinary talent for drawing and painting, a passion that conflicts with his family’s values and expectations.

Exposition: Asher’s gift for art is evident from a young age, but it brings him into conflict with his religious upbringing and his father’s expectations. His father is often away on trips for the Rebbe (the community’s spiritual leader), leaving Asher to navigate his relationship with his mother and his art.

Rising Action: As Asher grows, so does his passion for art, leading him to study under the renowned artist Jacob Kahn, who becomes his mentor. This decision further strains his relationship with his family and community, as they disapprove of his pursuit of a secular and potentially heretical career.

Climax: The climax of the story occurs when Asher’s art exhibition includes crucifixions, which deeply offend his Jewish community and his parents. This act represents the peak of Asher’s conflict between his art and his faith, as well as his struggle with his family’s expectations.

Falling Action: Following the exhibition, Asher faces the consequences of his choices. He has a confrontation with his parents, especially his father, who cannot accept Asher’s path. This confrontation forces Asher to fully grasp the cost of his dedication to his art.

Resolution: The novel concludes with Asher’s realization of the depth of the rift between him and his family and community. Though he achieves success and recognition in the art world, it comes at the expense of his relationship with his parents. He acknowledges the sacrifices he has made for his art and begins to understand the complex interplay of his identity, torn between his heritage and his passion.

Through Asher Lev’s journey, Chaim Potok masterfully explores themes of individuality, tradition, and the sacrifices one must make for the sake of personal integrity and artistic expression.

Character Analysis

In “My Name Is Asher Lev,” Chaim Potok presents a cast of complex characters, each contributing to Asher’s life and development as both an individual and an artist. Here’s a closer look at the main characters:

Asher Lev: Asher is a deeply introspective and talented artist born into a conservative Hasidic Jewish family. Throughout the novel, he struggles to reconcile his passion for art with his community’s expectations and values. His journey is one of self-discovery, conflict, and the search for balance between his identity as a Jew and his calling as an artist. Asher’s character development is central to the novel, showcasing his transition from a conflicted boy to a mature artist who understands the costs of his choices.

Aryeh Lev: Aryeh is Asher’s father, a dedicated servant to the Rebbe and the Jewish community. He is a man of strong convictions, deeply committed to his faith and his work. Aryeh’s relationship with Asher is strained due to their differing values and Aryeh’s inability to understand Asher’s artistic calling. Despite his strictness and apparent lack of empathy for Asher’s passion, Aryeh’s character is driven by his deep love for his family and his community.

Rivkeh Lev: Rivkeh, Asher’s mother, is a pivotal figure in his life. Her character is marked by her struggle with grief over her brother’s death and her attempt to support both her husband’s ambitions and Asher’s artistic endeavors. Rivkeh embodies the conflict between familial loyalty and the pursuit of individual desires. Her development throughout the novel highlights her strength and her own journey towards finding a sense of self.

Jacob Kahn: An influential figure in Asher’s life, Jacob Kahn is a successful artist who becomes Asher’s mentor. Kahn is not only a guide in the artistic sense but also a model of how to live authentically. He challenges Asher to confront the difficult realities of being an artist, including the sacrifices and controversies that come with it. Kahn’s character represents the secular world and its values, contrasting sharply with the Lev family’s religious commitments.

Here’s a summary of their character development:

Asher LevThoughtful, conflicted, passionateTo reconcile his art with his faith and familyGrows from a conflicted child to an artist aware of his choices’ costs
Aryeh LevStern, devout, committedTo serve his community and ensure his family adheres to its valuesStruggles with understanding Asher but remains committed to his faith
Rivkeh LevSensitive, caring, conflictedTo support her family while dealing with her own griefFinds strength and a sense of self amidst family tensions
Jacob KahnBold, challenging, insightfulTo mentor Asher and push him towards artistic authenticityServes as a guide, showing the balance between art and life

Each character in “My Name Is Asher Lev” contributes to the novel’s exploration of identity, tradition, and the cost of pursuing one’s passion, making their journeys as compelling as the story’s protagonist.

Themes and Symbols

“My Name Is Asher Lev” is rich with themes and symbols that weave through the narrative, adding layers of meaning and contributing to the novel’s depth. Here are some of the major themes and symbols:

Conflict Between Tradition and Individuality: At the heart of the novel is Asher’s struggle to reconcile his artistic calling with the expectations and traditions of his Hasidic Jewish community. This theme explores the tension between the pursuit of personal desires and the adherence to communal values, a universal conflict many can relate to.

The Power and Price of Art: Art in Potok’s novel is not just a form of expression but a force that has the power to challenge, transform, and even alienate. The story delves into the sacrifices required for artistic integrity and the impact of art on both the artist and those around him. Asher’s journey reflects the often-painful process of staying true to one’s creative vision in the face of misunderstanding and opposition.

Identity and Self-Discovery: Asher’s path is also a journey of self-discovery, where he seeks to understand who he is beyond the labels imposed by his family and community. The novel explores the complexities of identity formation and the challenges of forging a self that honors both one’s heritage and one’s personal truths.

Parent-Child Relationships: The dynamics between Asher and his parents, particularly with his father, Aryeh, highlight the challenges and complexities of parent-child relationships. These relationships are tested by differences in values, expectations, and understanding, yet they also demonstrate the possibility of love and respect amidst conflict.

The Role of the Mentor: Jacob Kahn’s role as Asher’s mentor symbolizes the importance of guidance and wisdom in the pursuit of one’s passion. Kahn represents a bridge between the art world and Asher’s traditional upbringing, showing him how to navigate the challenges of being true to his art while grappling with his cultural and religious identity.

Crucifixion Paintings: The crucifixion paintings that Asher creates serve as a powerful symbol of the clash between his artistic expression and his Jewish faith. These paintings represent not only Asher’s exploration of suffering and redemption but also the ultimate manifestation of his internal conflict, provoking strong reactions from both his community and his family.

Through these themes and symbols, “My Name Is Asher Lev” offers a profound exploration of the human condition, examining the sacrifices, struggles, and triumphs involved in pursuing one’s calling and forging an authentic identity.

Style and Tone

Chaim Potok’s writing style in “My Name Is Asher Lev” is characterized by its simplicity, depth, and emotional intensity. Through his narrative technique, Potok invites readers into the inner world of Asher Lev, providing a vivid window into the protagonist’s thoughts, feelings, and artistic process. Here’s how style and tone contribute to the novel’s mood and atmosphere:

Introspective and Reflective Tone: Potok employs an introspective tone that mirrors Asher’s internal struggles and contemplations. This reflective approach allows readers to deeply empathize with Asher, understanding his dilemmas and the weight of his choices. The tone is often contemplative, inviting readers to ponder the broader themes of identity, tradition, and the sacrifices inherent in the pursuit of art.

Rich Descriptive Language: The novel’s language is richly descriptive, particularly in its portrayal of art and the act of creation. Potok’s descriptions of Asher’s paintings and process are vivid and sensory, creating a palpable sense of the colors, textures, and emotions captured in Asher’s work. This descriptive depth enhances the reader’s understanding of art’s power and the complexities of the artistic experience.

Economic Use of Dialogue: Potok’s dialogue is concise and meaningful, each exchange serving to reveal character or advance the plot. The conversations between Asher and his parents, mentor, and community members are fraught with tension and significance, reflecting the larger conflicts and themes of the novel. This economical use of dialogue lends a realism to the characters’ interactions and heightens the emotional stakes.

Cultural and Religious Context: The narrative is deeply rooted in the cultural and religious context of Asher’s Hasidic Jewish community. Potok’s detailed depiction of rituals, traditions, and beliefs enriches the novel’s setting and provides a backdrop against which Asher’s personal journey unfolds. This attention to cultural detail adds layers to the story, offering insights into the challenges of navigating one’s path within a tightly knit community.

Evocative Imagery: Potok uses imagery effectively to convey themes and emotions. For example, the recurrent images of Asher’s crucifixion paintings symbolize the intersection of suffering, redemption, and artistic expression, highlighting the novel’s central conflicts. The imagery not only enhances the narrative’s emotional resonance but also reinforces its thematic explorations.

Through these stylistic elements, Chaim Potok crafts a compelling and immersive narrative that captures the complexities of artistic ambition, cultural identity, and personal growth. The writing style and tone of “My Name Is Asher Lev” play a crucial role in engaging readers and conveying the novel’s profound themes.

Literary Devices Used in My Name Is Asher Lev

Chaim Potok skillfully employs a variety of literary devices in “My Name Is Asher Lev” to enhance the narrative, deepen the thematic elements, and enrich the reader’s experience. Here are the top 10 literary devices used in the novel, each playing a significant role in unfolding the story and its meanings.

  1. Symbolism — Potok uses symbols extensively to represent deeper themes and conflicts within the novel. For example, Asher’s art, particularly the crucifixion paintings, symbolizes the clash between his individual identity and his community’s expectations, as well as his struggle to express complex emotions and experiences.
  2. Imagery — The use of vivid and descriptive language to create pictures in the reader’s mind is prevalent throughout the novel. Potok’s detailed descriptions of Asher’s paintings and the environments around him not only bring the story to life but also convey the emotional and psychological states of the characters.
  3. Metaphor — Potok employs metaphors to draw comparisons between seemingly unrelated subjects, enriching the narrative with deeper meaning. Asher’s journey as an artist is often metaphorically linked to a spiritual quest, highlighting his internal battles and the universal search for meaning.
  4. Foreshadowing — The author uses subtle hints and clues to foreshadow future events in the story, creating suspense and preparing the reader for significant developments. The tension in Asher’s early childhood, for instance, foreshadows the more profound conflicts he will face with his family and community as he grows older.
  5. IronyIrony is used to highlight the contradictions between the characters’ expectations or beliefs and the reality they face. The ironic tension between Asher’s deeply religious background and his passion for art, which often explores Christian themes, underscores the complex interplay between faith and creativity.
  6. Allusion — References to historical events, religious texts, and art history are woven throughout the novel, creating a rich tapestry of cultural and intellectual context that informs the characters’ lives and decisions. These allusions deepen the reader’s understanding of the themes and enhance the realism of the narrative.
  7. Characterization — Potok crafts his characters with depth and complexity, revealing their traits and motivations through their actions, dialogue, and inner thoughts. This careful characterization allows readers to connect with the characters on a profound level and understand the nuances of their journeys.
  8. Conflict — The central conflict between Asher’s artistic calling and his community’s expectations drives the narrative forward. Potok explores both external conflicts (between Asher and his family/community) and internal conflicts (within Asher himself), highlighting the multifaceted nature of human struggle.
  9. Mood — The atmosphere or mood in the novel shifts according to the narrative’s developments, reflecting the emotional landscape of the characters. Potok expertly manipulates mood to enhance the story’s impact, using elements like setting and tone to immerse the reader fully in Asher’s world.
  10. Point of View — “My Name Is Asher Lev” is told from Asher’s first-person perspective, providing intimate access to his thoughts, feelings, and experiences. This point of view allows for a deep exploration of his inner conflicts and the complexities of his relationships with others.

These literary devices work together to create a multi-layered narrative that is both engaging and thought-provoking, demonstrating Potok’s mastery of the craft of writing.

Literary Devices Examples

Below are examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices used in “My Name Is Asher Lev” by Chaim Potok. These tables illustrate how each device is utilized within the novel to deepen the narrative and enrich the reader’s understanding of its themes and characters.


Asher’s crucifixion paintingsThese paintings symbolize the intersection of suffering, redemption, and the clash between Asher’s artistic expression and his Jewish faith. They represent the deep internal conflict Asher faces in pursuing his art that is at odds with his community’s beliefs.
The window in Asher’s roomThe window through which Asher often looks out or paints by symbolizes his connection to and separation from the outside world. It represents both his artistic perspective and his isolation from his community as he pursues his individual path.
Asher’s use of color in his paintingsThe colors Asher chooses for his paintings serve as symbols for his emotions and the emotional tone of what he is depicting. The vivid descriptions of these colors reflect the intensity of his inner world and the conflicts he navigates between his art and his faith.


Descriptions of Brooklyn in winterPotok’s detailed descriptions of the snow-covered streets and the icy chill in the air create a vivid setting that mirrors Asher’s feelings of isolation and conflict within his family and community during these times.
The portrayal of Asher’s art studioThe imagery used to describe Asher’s studio—filled with canvases, the smell of paint, and the chaos of creation—evokes a strong sense of place and the sanctuary that art provides for Asher, contrasting with the orderliness of his home life.
Visuals of Asher’s early drawingsThe detailed descriptions of Asher’s drawings as a child, including the subjects and emotions they convey, provide imagery that showcases his innate talent and the way he uses art to process his world from a very young age.


Art as a bridgeThroughout the novel, art is metaphorically described as a bridge between Asher and the world, illustrating how his paintings serve as a means of communication and connection, even as they sometimes create distance from his community.
Asher’s journey as a spiritual questAsher’s struggle to balance his art with his faith is often presented as a metaphor for a spiritual quest, symbolizing his search for identity, purpose, and understanding within the confines of his strict religious upbringing.


Early conflicts over Asher’s artThe early disagreements and discomfort Asher’s family and community express about his drawings foreshadow the more significant conflicts that will arise as his art develops, particularly those involving his controversial crucifixion paintings.
Aryeh Lev’s reactions to Asher’s drawingsAryeh’s initial reactions to Asher’s drawings of the Rebbe and other religious figures hint at the deepening tension that will later erupt over Asher’s choice of subject matter, indicating the clash between religious devotion and artistic expression.


Asher’s use of Christian imageryThe irony of Asher, a Hasidic Jew, being drawn to and using Christian imagery in his art underscores the complex interplay between faith, art, and identity, highlighting the unexpected paths that artistic expression can take.
The community’s reverence for the Rebbe vs. Asher’s artThere’s an ironic contrast between the community’s deep reverence for the Rebbe—a spiritual leader who values tradition and conformity—and Asher’s rebellious form of art, which challenges and stretches these boundaries.


References to Jewish history and scriptureThe novel is rich with allusions to Jewish history, scripture, and traditions, grounding Asher’s personal story in the broader context of his people’s history and enriching the narrative with layers of cultural and religious significance.
Mentions of famous artists and artworksPotok alludes to real artists and their works, particularly through the character of Jacob Kahn, linking Asher’s fictional journey to the real world of art history and providing a sense of realism and depth to the story.


Development of Asher’s parentsThe nuanced portrayal of Asher’s parents, especially their reactions to his art and the evolving dynamics within the family, offer deep insights into their characters, revealing their struggles, fears, and love for their son.
Jacob Kahn’s mentorshipKahn’s role in the novel not only serves to advance the plot but also provides a rich characterization of him as a mentor, artist, and survivor, illustrating the complexities of navigating one’s identity and legacy.


Asher vs. His CommunityThe core conflict between Asher’s need to express himself through his art and his community’s expectations represents a universal struggle between individuality and conformity, driving the narrative forward and shaping the characters.


The somber mood of Asher’s BrooklynThe descriptions of Asher’s environment, particularly during moments of conflict or contemplation, create a somber, reflective mood that echoes his internal struggles and the seriousness of the themes being explored.

Point of View

First-person narrationAsher’s first-person narration offers an intimate glimpse into his psyche, allowing readers to experience his growth, conflicts, and artistic journey firsthand, providing a deeply personal and immersive reading experience.

These tables provide a glimpse into how Chaim Potok masterfully employs literary devices in “My Name Is Asher Lev,” weaving them throughout the narrative to enhance the storytelling and deepen the reader’s engagement with the novel’s themes and characters.

My Name Is Asher Lev – FAQs

Q: What is the main conflict in “My Name Is Asher Lev”?
A: The main conflict in “My Name Is Asher Lev” revolves around Asher’s struggle to reconcile his passion for art with the expectations of his Hasidic Jewish community and his family’s values. This conflict is both internal, as Asher grapples with his identity and desires, and external, as he faces opposition from his community and family.

Q: How does Chaim Potok explore the theme of identity in the novel?
A: Potok explores the theme of identity through Asher’s journey as an artist and his struggle to find a balance between his individuality and his cultural and religious heritage. Asher’s artistic expression becomes a means for him to navigate his personal identity, often in conflict with the collective identity of his community.

Q: What role does Jacob Kahn play in Asher’s life?
A: Jacob Kahn serves as a mentor and father figure to Asher, guiding him in his artistic development and encouraging him to explore his talent fully, even when it leads to conflict with his family and community. Kahn represents a world beyond the confines of Hasidic life and helps Asher understand the sacrifices necessary for his art.

Q: Why are the crucifixion paintings so controversial within Asher’s community?
A: The crucifixion paintings are controversial because they depict a Christian symbol, which is deeply offensive to Asher’s Jewish community. They are seen as a betrayal of Jewish faith and tradition, especially given the history of Jewish persecution in Christian societies. The paintings symbolize Asher’s inner conflict and the tension between his artistic vision and his community’s values.

Q: What does “My Name Is Asher Lev” say about the power of art?
A: The novel suggests that art has the profound power to express complex emotions, explore deep questions of identity, and challenge societal norms. However, it also portrays art as a source of conflict, capable of provoking controversy and straining personal relationships. Through Asher’s journey, Potok explores the sacrifices and responsibilities that come with this power.

Q: Can “My Name Is Asher Lev” be considered an autobiographical novel?
A: While “My Name Is Asher Lev” is not strictly autobiographical, Chaim Potok draws upon his own experiences growing up in a Hasidic Jewish community and his struggles with religious and artistic expression. The novel reflects broader themes of conflict between individual creativity and communal expectations that Potok himself navigated throughout his life.

Q: How does the ending of “My Name Is Asher Lev” resolve the novel’s conflicts?
A: The ending of the novel sees Asher achieving recognition in the art world but at the cost of further alienation from his family and community. It suggests a resolution not in the harmonizing of his two worlds but in Asher’s acceptance of the necessity of this separation for the sake of his art. The novel concludes with a sense of bittersweet acceptance rather than a neat resolution, reflecting the complexity of the issues it addresses.


QuestionABCDCorrect Answer
What is the main setting of “My Name Is Asher Lev”?New York CityJerusalemParisMoscowA
Who is Asher Lev’s mentor?Aryeh LevJacob KahnThe RebbePicassoB
What symbolizes Asher’s conflict between his art and his Jewish faith?A windowA menorahCrucifixion paintingsA Star of DavidC
How does Asher’s father react to his art?He is supportiveHe is indifferentHe is confusedHe is opposedD
What is the genre of “My Name Is Asher Lev”?MysteryBildungsromanScience FictionHistorical FictionB
Why does Asher create art that includes Christian imagery?To challenge his communityAs a form of rebellionTo explore themes of suffering and redemptionBecause of a lack of Jewish symbolsC
What role does Rivkeh play in Asher’s life?She is his primary antagonistShe mediates between Asher and AryehShe is indifferent to his artShe discourages his artistic talentB
Which literary device is prominently used to describe Asher’s paintings?OnomatopoeiaImageryHyperboleSimileB
What theme is central to “My Name Is Asher Lev”?The inevitability of fateThe power and price of artThe importance of scientific discoveryThe joy of childhoodB
How does the novel “My Name Is Asher Lev” end?With Asher abandoning his artWith Asher’s family accepting his artWith Asher achieving recognition at the expense of family tiesWith Asher returning to the fold of his communityC

This quiz tests comprehension of key aspects of “My Name Is Asher Lev,” including its plot, characters, themes, and literary elements. It offers a concise way to assess understanding of the novel’s complex narrative and the profound questions it raises about identity, art, and community.


Identify the Literary Devices Used in the Following Paragraph from ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’:

“Under the cold, watchful eyes of my father, I drew the world that existed beyond our window, a world he could not see or chose not to. The sharp lines of the buildings against the gray sky seemed to echo the sharp edges of our conversations, each stroke of my pencil a rebellion, a tiny revolution against the expectations that weighed heavily upon me. In the silence between us, my art spoke volumes, a language of color and form that defied the monochrome palette of our existence.”


  1. Imagery: “The sharp lines of the buildings against the gray sky” vividly describes the scene outside Asher’s window, creating a visual picture that reflects the tension in his relationship with his father.
  2. Metaphor: “Each stroke of my pencil a rebellion, a tiny revolution” compares Asher’s act of drawing to an act of rebellion, highlighting the conflict between his artistic expression and his father’s expectations.
  3. Symbolism: The contrast between “a language of color and form” and “the monochrome palette of our existence” symbolizes the difference between Asher’s vibrant, artistic world and the restrictive, colorless world of his father’s expectations.
  4. Personification: “Under the cold, watchful eyes of my father” personifies the father’s gaze as cold and watchful, emphasizing the pressure and scrutiny Asher feels.
  5. Simile (implied through contrast rather than a direct comparison): The implication that conversations have “sharp edges” like the buildings, suggests a similarity between the harshness of their environment and their communication, indirectly acting as a simile.

This exercise encourages students to delve deeper into the text, recognizing and understanding the literary devices Chaim Potok employs to enrich the narrative and convey complex themes and emotions in “My Name Is Asher Lev.”