Monday, July 8, 2013

Tevye as a parable

In my post about gay scouts, I wanted to make an analogy to Fiddler on the Roof, but it wasn't really a good idea because not many people would even understand the reference or agree with the interpretation.  So here I discuss it separately.  There are spoilers, but it's like revealing that Romeo and Juliet die in the end--it doesn't spoil the story that much to know the ending.

In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye, who lives in a Jewish village in Tsarist Russia, has three daughters that he needs to marry off. The marriages don't satisfy him for various reasons, but he comes to accept them anyway.  Why?  It's what God wants.  This rationale is strained to breaking point when his final daughter marries into Christianity.  So he rejects his last daughter.  It's really sad.  But the music is great.

So there's a great story about why it is bad to do the right things for the wrong reasons.  Eventually you may come to a situation where the wrong reasons no longer lead to the right things, and lead to the wrong things.  At least, that's one way to view it.
The story also makes me think about the relation of intuitive morals and religious morals.  God isn't really telling Tevye what to do.  There's just something emotionally wrong about rejecting one's daughter, and it's easy to attribute this intuition to God.  There's also something emotionally wrong with rejecting a daughter who converts out of your religion, but it's harder to attribute this to God.

Anyway, Fiddler on the Roof is a must-see for secularists.


Anonymous said...

Tevye actually has five daughters, but only three of them marry during the course of the story, the younger two are too young. (Not that this stops the matchmaker from looking for matches for them!) So if we had a modern update of the story, we could jump forward a few years, and have Tevye dealing with Shprintze deciding not to marry. Or deciding to marry a woman.

miller said...

I intentionally include errors in my summary... so readers are surprised when they see the movie. That's it.