The King of Norway – Amos Oz – Outsiders

Amos Oz‘s story, “The King of Norway” provides a good lesson on point of view.  The story begins:

On our kibbutz, Kibbutz Yekhat, there lived a man, Zvis Provizor, a short fifty-five-year-old bachelor who was given to blinking.  He loved to convey bad news: earthquakes, plane crashes, buildings collapsing on their occupants, fires, and floods.

If we examine this sentence, the first thing to notice is the “our.”  Who’s telling this story?  Whose story is it?  The collective community of the kibbutz is telling the story.  It gets trickier though when we think about whose story this is?  Is it a story about Zvis Provizor or a story about the Kibbutz Yekhat?  The men and women of the kibbutz call Zvis, the Angel of Death, behind his back, because of his gloomy disposition and penchant for sharing troubling news.  They appreciate they work he does as a landscaper and gardener, but want nothing to do with him.  Zvis is part of the community, but also on the outskirts of it.

Further reading shows the story shift to an omniscient point of view.  Zvis meets a younger widow, Luna Blank, whom the kibbutz calls the Black Widow, and they fall into a gradual relationship. There are two scenes between Zvi and Luna, before the perspective of the kibbutz closes in.  This time it’s through dialogue instead of slipping back into a plural perspective.  As Zvis and Luna’s relationship develops the story draws to a close with the final scene back in the plural perspective.

Two or three months later, we noticed that Luna Bank had stopped coming to the classical-music group and had even been absent from several teachers’ meetings.  She dyed her hair a coppery red and began to wear bright lipstick.  She occasionally skipped supper.  On the Sukkoth holiday, she stayed in the city for a few days and came back wearing a dress that we thought was a bit daring, with a long slit up the side.

Is the story about Zvis, Luna, or the kibbutz?  The collective has shifted their attention to Luna as she becomes more of an outsider.  As much as Zvis is avioded by the people of the kibbutz, he’s understood and adheres to their mores.  To me, this isn’t a story about two gloomy people trying to find solace with one another, but about a small community that is petty and full of gossip.

One Response to “The King of Norway – Amos Oz – Outsiders”

  1. Anonymous

    >First of all, the story does not technically begin from the POV of the 'kibbutz', but of some anonymous member, some 'I'. If you read on, the narrator says, "One morning he stopped me on the path …" I say 'technically', because the 'I' seems to be speaking for the entire kibbutz (or, at least, thinks he is).Although, I don't presume to understand this story, I thought it interesting that Zvi was so attuned to the suffering of the world and tended to the gardens of the kibbutz so well but could not 'connect' with other humans, could not in fact bear to be touched. Also, I'm not sure about The King of Norway reference. Clearly, it is supposed to be important, since it both begins (as the title)and ends the story. The king of Norway, of course, resisted the Nazi occupation and was a protector of jews, so his passing could have something to do with the distance Isreal has put between its original ideals and its present (1957) reality. This could also help explain Luna's tranformation from an 'unadorned', modest school teacher to a modern woman who wears lipstick and sexy clothes and eventually leaves for America.

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