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Literature / The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

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The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is a 1959 novel by Canadian author Mordecai Richler.

A Coming of Age Story, the novel follows the title character as he tries to climb the social ladder in 1930s and '40s Montreal, hoping to one day become a big shot like neighbourhood "golden boy" Jerry Dingleman and measure up to his big brother Lennie in their family's eyes. Along the way, the novel explores such themes as Jewish identity, social class, antisemitism, wealth, corruption, and alienation.

Richler's fourth novel, and perhaps his best-known, Kravitz was adapted as a feature film in 1974, directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Randy Quaid, and Jack Warden. The story was also adapted as a stage musical by David Spencer and Alan Menken.

The book and film contain examples of:

  • Alter Kocker: The accent appears frequently among the older characters in the film, such as Duddy's grandfather and Mr. Farber.
  • Anachronism Stew: The film's setting is somewhat ambiguous. By most measures, it takes place in the same 1930s/1940s setting as the book, but the appearance of a post-1957 Canadian Red Ensign flag and Wilensky's lunch counter in its post-1952 location suggest a late 1950s setting.
  • Anti-Hero: While the titular protagonist has deeply flaws like too much Pride, he still has redeeming qualities such as being industrious and always wanting to right by his family (even if his interpretation of such turns out to be wrong).
  • Ascended Extra: Minor character Jacob Hersh becomes the main character of Richler's 1971 novel St. Urbain's Horsemen.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Duddy's friend Virgil is this, accepting Duddy's abuse and even being willing to drive a delivery truck for him despite his epilepsy. Yvette also fills this role during her time as Duddy's secretary.
  • Borscht Belt: The Canadian equivalent. Duddy gets a summer job as a waiter at a Jewish resort in the Laurentian Mountains. His most trusted acquaintance at the resort is comedian Cuckoo Kaplan (who does not appear in the film adaptation).
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: Duddy's Uncle Benjy has socialist leanings and disapproves of Duddy's pursuit of wealth...while owning a garment factory and living in a lavish mansion.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Peter Friar is a drunk, blacklisted Hollywood director who Duddy hires to make bar mitzvah films. Despite his avant garde approach and Prima Donna personality, his films do meet with approval.
  • The Driver: Duddy and Lennie's father is a cab driver and occasional pimp.
  • Everyone Has Standards: When they hear that Irwin Shubert conned Duddy into running a rigged roulette game and losing his earnings for the summer, the other waiters force him to pay Duddy back. Unknown to them, the guests at the resort do the same thing. (Duddy, naturally, chooses not to fill anyone in.)
  • Exotic Backdrop Setting: Played with. Yvette is the only Francophone character in a story set in Montreal and rural Quebec, and none of the other characters are shown to be bilingual. Justified given that the bulk of the characters are from Montreal's Jewish community, which was (and, in some parts of the city, remains) predominently Anglophone.
  • Fixing the Game: Irwin Shubert, one of Duddy's coworkers at the resort, persuades him to run an underground roulette game for resort guests. He conveniently neglects to tell Duddy that the roulette wheel is rigged, cheating Duddy out of his earnings for the summer when everybody wins.
  • Foreshadowing: Various examples in the novel, such as Yvette worrying that Virgil will have a seizure while driving for Duddy's business. Guess how that ends. The biggest example is an early line about Simcha associates worrying how his grandson Duddy might hurt him.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Lennie is pressured into performing an abortion for Sandra Calder, one of his university friends.
  • Greedy Jew: Played horrendously straight with Duddy. He starts scheming to make money in high school, selling Tijuana Bibles to classmates. As he gets older, he goes to even farther reaches, such as producing avant garde bar mitzvah films and forging Virgil's signature on a cheque in order to put a down payment on land for a resort he wants to build. The story gets away with all this only because it's by a Jewish author.
  • Heroic BSoD: Duddy suffers one after his Uncle Benjy dies.
  • Humble Goal: Played with. While Duddy's ultimate goal is to make money and build a resort around a lake in the Laurentian Mountains, the sign that he has finally "made it" is starting a tab at the neighbourhood lunch counter.
  • Interclass Friendship: Subverted with Duddy's relationship with Hugh Thomas Calder, which Duddy only sees as a way to get financing.
  • Jerkass: Duddy is a school bully who grows up into an unethical businessman.
  • Jewish Complaining / Jewish Smartass / Jews Love to Argue: Indulged in by every Jewish character in the book, especially Duddy.
  • Karma Houdini: Even after all the abuse he heaped on Yvette and Virgil, he still ended up wealthy - even though the land he bought was in her name and she could easily have refused to sign it over.
  • Kosher Nostra: Jerry Dingleman turns out to be an example.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: While Duddy still gets his land in the end, he has lost his girlfriend, his best friend, and the respect of his grandfather, the only relative who had time for him while he was growing up.
  • Men Don't Cry: Averted in various instances, such as Simcha weeping after seeing his grandson turning to fraud, obsessed by owning property.
  • Nice Guy: Of all the students in FFHS, only Hersh was sympathetic to Mac.
  • The Oldest Profession: Linda Rubin, daughter of the owner of the resort Duddy works at and girlfriend of Duddy's nemesis Irwin Shubert, is later seen working as an escort for Jerry Dingleman.
  • On One Condition: Benjy leaves Duddy his house, but under the condition that he not sell it or rent it out. Also counts as Spiteful Will, given Benjy's disapproval of Duddy's scheming and awareness that Duddy would quickly sell the house off.
  • The Pollyanna: Virgil, who stays positive and continues writing poetry, even after he's paralyzed.
  • Rejected Apology:
    • Benjy tries to make amends to Duddy on his deathbed for his preferential treatment of Lennie; Duddy is less than impressed.
    • Duddy is also on the receiving end from Yvette after stealing from Virgil.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Yvette deserts Duddy after Virgil's accident, which she (justifiably) blames Duddy for, but they eventually reconcile. Happens again for good after Duddy forges Virgil's name on a cheque.
  • Self-Made Man: Thoroughly deconstructed through Duddy, who cheats and schemes to make his fortune, and through St Urbain Street "golden boy" Jerry Dingleman, who made his fortune through gambling and drug dealing.
  • Shiksa Goddess: Yvette Durelle, Duddy's longsuffering girlfriend and business partner. Duddy buys land in the Laurentian Mountains in her name since he is underage, and to win over landowners who would never sell to a Jew.
    • More so with Lennie's college classmate Sandra, a golden-haired cheerleader who gets pregnant by her football player boyfriend, then manipulates medical student Lennie, who is in love with her, to obtain an abortion (very illegal at the time).
  • The Unfavorite: Lennie and Duddy's Uncle Benjy is willing to pay for Lennie's medical school, while Duddy is on his own. Later averted, when Duddy inherits Benjy's house.
  • Unwitting Pawn:
    • Duddy gets this a few times. He gets tricked into running a crooked roulette game at the resort, costing him his savings, and is later tricked into carrying heroin into the United States by Jerry Dingleman.
    • Linda Rubin was unaware that the roulette game was rigged, and was not happy when she learned that Duddy was conned.
  • The 'Verse: Duddy makes cameo appearances in two other Richler novels: St. Urbain's Horsemen and Barney's Version.
  • Victim-Blaming: On his way to cash the fraudulent cheque from Virgil's account, Duddy angrily asks them why they hadn't come home an hour earlier, before he could think about forging Virgil's signature.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Duddy gets these from Yvette after Virgil is paralyzed after having a seizure while driving a truck for Duddy and from his grandfather after he learns about the forged cheque.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Duddy is constantly living in the shadow of his older and more favoured brother Lennie, a medical student at McGill University. Lennie loses some favour when he deserts his studies after performing an abortion on a fellow student.
  • Your Money Is No Good Here:
    • Duddy has to use Yvette as a front to buy his land in the Laurentians because many of the owners will not sell to a Jew.
    • After initially dismissing and then trying to thwart Duddy's attempt to buy all the land around the lake, Jerry Dingleman approaches him offering financing for building the resort. Duddy ridicules him and kicks him off his land.

Alternative Title(s): The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz