Although there were many unsympathetic characters in A Contract with God, the character of Frimme Hersh caught my attention because he was very sympathetic at the beginning of the story, yet became quite unsympathetic at the end. In fact, I actually identified rather strongly with him in the beginning, as I think almost anyone who has lost a loved one would, yet by the end of the story, I found myself almost taking pleasure in his misfortune. As I began to think about what produced this sudden change of heart in my opinion of him, I realized the cause was his lack of integrity and his betrayal of those who helped him.
After his daughter died, he used the synagogue’s bonds, that were entrusted to him, as collateral, under false pretenses, so he could purchase a tenement building for personal gain. Although he got lucky, he risked the financial well-being of the Jewish community that not only provided him with much support in New York City, but that had saved his life by sending him to America when he was a child. Furthermore, when he acquired his first tenement building, he immediately raised the rent, cut back on the heat, and forced the tenants to make their own repairs, effectively placing undue financial strain on the very people who offered him comfort after his daughter died. He also used his newly acquired money and power to coerce the Jewish elders into drafting him a new contract with God, something they were opposed to. And for the grand finale, he scolded God, shouting, “This time, you will not violate our contract! This time, I have three witnesses” (Eisner 52).
After watching Frimme transform from a humble and pious man, to a greedy, heartless tycoon, I no longer felt sorry for him, and when he suffered a heart attack while flaunting his new contract at God, I could not help but think that he had it coming.
Below I have included several panels that visually illustrate Frimme’s transformation throughout A Contract with God.