I tend to look at it more from the angle of "what did Chava do?" rather than "why is Tevye being so mean?" He is willing to bend in those areas where the normal response is merely cultural, but when Chava does something that hits him deep within his soul, he says no.I wanted to continue this conversation but was (happily) side tracked for the past couple of days. I agree with you Ouiz and in fact this is what I was referring to when I mentioned the valuable lessons that could be learned from this beautiful movie. Here is the problem I had when I was watching it with my daughters (age 9 and 7)... in the eyes of the children, the three oldest daughters were the sympathetic characters; not Tevye. Tevye yelled. Tevye ranted. Tevye turned his back on Chava and Fyedka. He was sometimes the comic relief, but altogether, not a very likable character. They were already, without seeing the end of the movie choosing which daughter they liked the best (and yes, one of them chose Chava).
I hope I'll be able to watch it with my children as they get older, and have these conversations with them...
I have not read the original stories in their entirety but I have read the play, Tevya and His Daughters, and one of the most noticeable differences is that in the play, Tevya is most definitely the sympathetic character. So the messages that the play sends are related through him.
Some other differences include:
1. The play only covers the marriages of the first two daughters.
2. Hodel and Perchik are married before he leaves. She stays with her parents until she goes to join him in Siberia.
3. Chava is not dealt with in the play at all. It is alluded at the end of the play that she has an interest in a writer who doesn't exactly have a very Jewish sounding name. Tevya simply says, "So what will happen there, I leave to your tender mercies." In the original stories, She does marry a Russian but later returns home after he beats her.
I studied Theater in college and the one thing that I always find very interesting are the changes that are made to a movie or play if the story is adapted form an original source because in the world of drama, be it the stage or film... EVERYTHING is a choice. Nothing happens by accident. Sometimes by examining the changes, the motivations behind the choices are revealed. Sometimes I am intrigued by what I find and sometimes I'm just sad.