Isaac Singer's novels The Slave and Satan in Goray share a great number of similarities. Both novels are centered on the theme of religion, and delve deeply into a number of passions. Further, both books share Singer's repulsion with the slaughter of animals. All in all, however, The Slave is a much more subtle and personal look at the role of religion than the larger than life look at religious Messianic fervor depicted in Satan in Goray.
Isaac Bashevis Singer was born near Warsaw as the son of a rabbi, and moved to the U.S. just before WWI. He began to write professionally as a Warsaw journalist between WWI and WWII. His early works of fiction were novellas and short stories. Satan in Goray appeared in 1935, just before Singer immigrated to the United States. The Slave was written in 1962, when Singer was firmly entrenched in the U.S. He was a prolific writer, who authored a number of books, including Sosha, The Golem, The Penitent, Short Friday, The Power of Light, The Death of Metuselah and Other Stories, A Young Man in Search of Love, The Fools of Chelm and Their History, and Why Noah Chose the Dove. Many of his works, including The Estate (1969), The Manor (1967), The Family Moskat (1950) deal with family dynamics. His work often deals with passion, obsession, and the potential for destruction and creation inherent in both. Singer passed away in 1991 (Nobel Lectures).
The Slave tells the story of Jacob, a Jewish slave, who falls in love with his Gentile master's daughter, Wanda. The story takes place in 17th century Poland. Jacob is ransomed, but cannot live without Wanda. The two escape together to a quiet Jewish community, where they try to keep their secret. Jacob is increasingly disturbed by his sin in taking a Gentile wife, and the two often have difficulty in concealing Wanda's true identity. Because Wanda cannot speak Yiddish, she must pose as a mute. Wanda eventually speaks under the pain of childbirth, and after her death is buried as an outcast. Jacob and his new son move to the Holy Land and Jacob does not return for 20 years. The novel is set against the Cossack uprising of 1648, when hundreds of Jews were enslaved and slaughtered.
Satan in Goray tells the story of how messianic fever affects the small town of Goray in the 1600s. Based on the true appearance of the False Messiah, the book is a clear glimpse of the desperation of the people of Goray. In this atmosphere of desperation, Shabbati Shevi appears, and claims to be the messiah. As many of the townsfolk fall under his spell, the Rabbi of Goray resists. This conflict tears the town apart, and a social and political unrest ensue. A holy man, Itche Mates comes to Goray and marries the young unmarried orphan Rechele. Satan soon possesses Rechele, and images of vengeful demons appear.
Satan in Goray delves deeply into the idea of the impact of the millennial movement on the lives of people desperate for relief from their suffering. In modern times, millennial fevers have seen the rise of the Branch Davidians, and Jonestown. In Satan and Goray, the millennial fever consumes the little town of Goray as the false Messiah claims to be able to lead the Jews to a new era. Their hopes lead the townsfolk to unusual marriages and behaviors like breaking of strict Jewish law and tradition. They become mad and frenzied in their beliefs, and dreadful and dark in their agony as the dream of the Messiah is crushed.
Both Satan in Goray and The Slave delve into the concept of religious fervor. Satan in Goray in centered on the theme of the false Messiah. In the novel, he is shown as seductive and appealing to the masses. He is surrounded by mass hysteria. Eventually, the false Messiah is revealed, and the novel deals with he breaking up of the illusion, and the rebuilding of lives in either new illusion, or through penance for past mistakes and purity of life and thought. While The Slave does not directly deal with the false Messiah, it highlights many of the repercussions of religious fever. The Slave is…