Critical Context

Dubin’s Lives, Malamud’s second-to-last novel, explores themes that recur in all of his fiction. The most pervasive theme is that of self-understanding and moral choices. In all of his novels from The Natural (1952) through Dubin’s Lives, the protagonists, given their respective fates, struggle to find their places in the world. These protagonists tend to be ordinary men representing Everyman. Comic actions, like those in The Assistant (1957) when Frank Alpine falls into a grave and in Dubin’s Lives when Dubin climbs a tree fleeing first a dog and then its angry owner, show earnest, foolish, often pathetic heroes trying to find their way out of their woes.

Malamud’s characters do have their woes. They are usually outsiders, often victims who recognize the unfairness of their situations yet come to understand the choices they must make in order to get their lives in order. These choices are not the more comfortable ones. Roy Hobbs in The Natural chooses incorrectly; Frank in The Assistant learns what discipline and pain it takes to choose correctly. Dubin shows that even a man who has chosen correctly in the past to overcome a debilitating childhood must still choose correctly again.

Jewishness is an issue in all Malamud’s fiction. For Malamud, all men are Jews, for as his fiction shows, the Jews paradoxically are both the Chosen People and the outcasts. All of his...

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