Bashevis’s Dismissal of Modernism
This chapter offers a reading of “Shammai Vayts,” a short story by Yiddish writer Yitskhok Bashevis, with particular emphasis on its theoretical commitment to literary realism and rejection of experimental modernism. It first considers Bashevis's 1927 essay titled “Verter oder bilder,” in which he makes a subtle critique of the limitations of modernism and defends realism as the mode in which fiction can best represent observed reality. It then analyzes “Shammai Vayts” and its depiction of Jews drawn away from the pieties of the shtetl to the opportunities offered in the big city. It argues that embracing modernism, as David Bergelson did, or dismissing it, as did Bashevis, failed to preserve a significant body of general readers for Yiddish literature in the twentieth century.
Keywords: short story, Yitskhok Bashevis, literary realism, experimental modernism, Jews, shtetl, David Bergelson, Yiddish literature