Horizontal or Vertical: Rereading the Space Scheme in only Yesterday by S. Y. Agnon

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Since its publication in 1945, scholarly works on S. Y. Agnon's Only Yesterday (Temol shilshom) have focused on various thematic and poetic aspects of the novel, such as the structure of the plot, the protagonist Isaac Kumer, and the moral and poetic meanings of the novel's ending. Inter alia, scholars have been interested in the geographical spaces presented in the plot, and the protagonist's indecision of whether to settle in Jaffa or Jerusalem, two cities that offer contrasting ways of living. This article offers a new reading of the novel's space scheme in tandem with an analysis of the short story, The Mines of Falun, by E. T. A. Hoffman, with which Agnon was familiar, and thus sheds a different light on Kumer's unexpected death at the novel's end. A comparative study of Agnon's and Hoffman's works reveals a similar space scheme that does not emphasize the contrast between two different cities-Jerusalem and Jaffa-but focuses on a single highly significant urban setting-Jerusalem. In Only Yesterday the main conflict is actually between a heavenly Jerusalem and an earthly Jerusalem (Jerusalem of above and below), and not between Jerusalem and Jaffa. Concentrating interest on Jerusalem itself turns the discussion of the novel to the nature of Jewish life in the Land of Israel, an issue that was of great concern to Agnon.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-406
Number of pages14
JournalAJS Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Association for Jewish Studies.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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