Making the Grades
In pre-revolutionary Russia, one's existence is as precarious as a fiddler on the roof. While trying to scratch out some sort of melody in his life, Tevye (Topol), a poor dairy farmer keeps his balance by clinging to his Jewish traditions while providing for the five daughters he has been blessed with. Genially he converses with God, wondering if it would "spoil some vast eternal plan, if he were a wealthy man."
When the financially secure Lazar Wolf (Paul Mann) asks to marry his eldest daughter Tzeitel (Rosalind Harris), Tevye eagerly accepts the proposal, believing the arrangement will insure she always has the comforts of life. Unfortunately the bride-to-be does not take the announcement with the same rejoicing as does her mother (Norma Crane). Contrary to convention and with no regard for riches, Tzeitel wishes to choose her own husband.
Placing his daughter's happiness before honoring his promise will require Tevye to sidestep custom, and devise an elaborate lie to excuse breaking off the engagement. Although his compromise is a small departure from the old ways, it reflects the revolutionary spirit that is marching across Russia, tiptoeing into even the obscure village of Anatevka where his family resides. But efforts to regain his familiar foothold become more difficult with the romantic interests of his second and third daughters (Michele Marsh, Neva Small) , and the acceleration of religious persecution threatening to stomp out the Jews.
Based on the short stories of Sholom Aleichem, and receiving recognition first as a stage play, Fiddler on the Roof chronicles the flood of change that pours into this humble milkman's life, eroding much of what he took for granted, and reshaping his future. Forced to reevaluate everything from his understanding of love and marriage, to his religious commitment, Tevye's abundance of good humor, long standing relationship with God, and moments of profound insight (despite his lack of education), help him rise to each new challenge.
Enhanced by musical numbers that move the story from light-hearted to heart wrenching, Fiddler on the Roof captures the universal struggle to preserve faith, family, and friendship. While these complex themes, some violence connected with the political conflict, and the fantastical depiction of a nightmare may be too much for very young viewers, for the rest of the family this film's inspiring celebration of the tenacity of the human spirit is sure to appeal to Jew and Gentile alike.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Fiddler On The Roof.
During a conversation one character pronounces money to be the world’s curse. Tevye retorts, "If riches are a curse, may God smite me with it, and may I never recover!" Considering all that transpires during the course of the story, would riches have improved Tevye’s situation? Were things any easier for the wealthy Lazar Wolf?
Wirily Tevye makes reference to being God’s chosen people, and asks him "Once in a while can’t you choose someone else?" Although the circumstances the Jews have to face appear harsh, knowing the eventual fate of religious freedom in Russia, is it possible that God was being mindful of the residents of Anatevka?