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Wil Eisner's _A Contract with God_

This graphic novel features caricatures, sentimentality, melodrama, irony, and parable. Not so different from the tales of the Hasidic masters of eastern Europe, and the early Yiddish stories of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Bronx in the 1930s is, as Eisner draws it, a successor to a shtetl in Jewish Poland; “a noisy neighborliness not unlike the life-style the newcomers had left on the ‘other side,’” he wrote. While the American immigrant did not share the "old country" danger of pogroms and yearly attacks on good Friday (“the iron night”), he and she—Jewish, and even more so Irish, Afroamerican, Polish, Italian)-- had more anxiety about what to do to avoid a helpless and despairing immersion in poverty.

The story begins in a flood and ends with searing lightning and wind. God is in the storm, and in the head of Frimme Hersh: the God of Sinai, terrible in His glory, which not even Moses was allowed to see. In Eisner's first panel, Hersh lumbers through the deluge and climbs the tenement steps, which are overflowing like a steep hillside with runoff. He has returned from burying his daughter. A devout young man in Russia (“God will reward you”), just before leaving for America, he asks a tzaddik the wrong question (“If I am good, will God know it?”). The wise man tells him “God is all-knowing.” Frimme writes out a contract with God on a piece of stone, his own personal One Commandment.

Arriving in the Bronx, he continues his piety and charity. For this reason, a despairing mother leaves her baby at Frimme’s door. (The God of Sinai is everywhere in this story, even more so b/c it is Eisner’s genius to be able to put draw his reader into his personal vision of the mundane world of the depression-era Bronx.)

There passed many years of joy. Then the girl dies “in the springtime of her life.” Frimme spits on the contract he had written in stone, as the entire tenement block rocks with the timbre of this justice-demanding Dropsie Avenue Job.  Read More 
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