The woman’s desire to read Talmud and Gemara is modern; yet, it is ironic that she falls asleep. While she wants to be a part of the man’s world, she does not understand it; nor, does he understand hers. This illustrates the world before the modern shift – the men and women lived separate worlds.
The story continues: “Two separate worlds, a man’s world and a woman’s world – a world of the Talmudic ‘Four Categories of Damages,’ and a world of story books, bought by the carton.”
When he reads, she falls asleep; when she reads, he falls asleep. It’s not enough that we have different sects, not enough that we classify people according to French noses, English canes, German hunters, Lithuanian pigs, Polish beggars, Eretz Yisrael wanderers, not enough that every part of the body lies in a separate stall and has a different-sounding name, not enough that every one of these parts is further separated into different sections – Hasidism, misnagdim, “Germans” – but we are also divided into males and females, so that each and every narrow, damp, squalid Jewish home there are two distinct worlds.
When he reads, she falls asleep; when she reads, he falls asleep. At the least, I think, we ought to unite the two worlds. It is the debt of every Yiddish writer – but Yiddish writers have too many debts of their own. If only we had some supplement to our income!” (110-111)
This interaction between the man and women wonderfully depicts the shift from separate to united worlds, while addressing the difficulties associated with the changing times. Both the man and the women want to be apart of each other’s lives; yet, this is not quite possible. The women are immersed in their responsibilities as mothers and wives, while also in the broader culture, speaking Polish, German, and Yiddish. The men are immersed in Judaic studies. While the concept of distinct gender roles is clear to us today, it was not openly discussed in Peretz’s time. Furthermore, it was almost unheard of to explicitly condone this custom. Thus, Peretz’s writing is extremely advanced and forward thinking. Through illustrating that people were slowly attempting to live in a single, united world, rather than one separated by numerous sects, Peretz conveys the modern shift.
Peretz, I.L. “In the Mail Coach.” The I.L. Peretz Reader. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. Print.