Commentary Magazine

The Dubbuk-Archetype

To the Editor:

In “The Figure of the Dybbuk” [April] Harold Fisch erroneously states that a Dybbuk obsessed Gemulah, the heroine of S. Y. Agmon’s story “Edo and Enam”. . . . Mr. Fisch also compares Agnon’s “Edo and Enam” with S. An-sky’s play The Dybbuk.

The only parallel between The Dybbuk and “Edo and Enam” is the fact that the heroines of both works, Leah in The Dybbuk and Gemulah in “Edo and Enam,” psychologically resisted men they were neither in love with nor destined to marry. In The Dybbuk Hanan was promised to Leah, and Leah to Hanan, and what was apparently destined in Heaven could not be changed by man, so Leah joined her lover in death. The symbol used by An-sky was the Dybbuk, a Kabbalistic symbol with origins, according to Gershom Scholem, in the Indian philosophy of Dharma, which deals with the transmigration of the soul.

Agnon does not use the symbol of the Dybbuk at all in “Edo and Enam”; instead it is the mystical segulah which permeates the story, and controls the destiny of his heroine, the moon-stricken Gemulah. . . . Gamzu married Gemulah although she was destined to be married to Ginat. Gemulah’s father warned Gamzu that Gemulah was moon-stricken and gave him three segulot, charms, which he implored Gamzu to guard since one of them had the power to control Gemulah’s somnambulism. But Gamzu carelessly sold the segulot to Ginat, thus uniting Gemulah with her true lover Ginat. . . .

Although it is true that the symbolism of both An-sky and Agnon is mystical, the actual symbols they use, as I have tried to show here, are entirely different. . . .

I would also like to point out to Mr. Fisch that the revenants which appear in secular literature do not derive from the Dybbuk-archetype . . . and certainly in Ibsen’s Ghosts the apparition of the hero’s father is strictly personal, and bears no resemblance whatsoever to a Dybbuk. Mr. Fisch might, however, have discussed the parallel between An-sky’s tragedy and Paddy Chayefsky’s comedy, The Tenth Man, in which the heroine was also possessed by a Dybbuk.

Annabelle Farmelant
New York City



Harold Fisch writes:

Miss Farmelant is wrong. “Edo and Enam” (like Agnon’s parallel tale, “The Betrothed”) is fundamentally a “Dybbuk” story. The heroine in both cases is not merely possessed, but possessed by a force representing authority and prenatal obligations. Other parallels (as pointed out in my essay) are too many and too deep to be ignored. This does not mean that they were using the same archetype. Miss Farmelant does not seem to understand how archetypal criticism of the Northrop Frye variety works. Consequently she protests that “the revenants which appear in secular literature do not derive from the Dybbuk.” No one ever claimed that they did. This is not a question of literary derivation, but of common strategies devised under the stress of similar compulsions and issuing in significantly similar patterns of narrative and drama. Ghosts and The House of Seven Gables, like The Dybbuk and “Edo and Enam,” grapple with the problem of the burden of the past. In all of them the antinomies of terror and inspiration find expression in the form of ghostly possession, somnambulism, and the like. I am suggesting that at work here is a common archetype which I have for convenience (and I hope for truth and clarity also) termed the Dybbuk-archetype.

I have enjoyed Mr. Chayefsky’s play The Tenth Man, but though this clearly derived from An-sky’s The Dybbuk, it is not a Dybbuk-play in my sense of the term, since, instead of exploring the dimension of history (as do the stories I am interested in), it relates primarily to the personal level. There is a personal problem and a personal catharsis. Chayefsky’s heroine, as I remember, is shown to be afflicted with schizophrenia. Once we have understood this the mystery is solved. In the true Dybbuk the abnormalities of the hero or heroine are rather symbols of a wider human predicament.



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