Study Guide

God's Grace

by Bernard Malamud

God's Grace Themes


There is probably no better way to convey the themes of God's Grace than to yield the floor to the author himself. Towards the end of the novel, before the evil strikes and reduces the community to a group of snarling and murdering beasts, Cohn sets up seven Admonitions in giant letters on the face of a mountain. These quasi-Mosaic edicts enshrine all that the last surviving human sees as the guiding principles for a just and civilized chimpanzee society. Like the Christian admonitions against the seven deadly sins, they are a distillate of Malamud's diemes and a symbol of the dual nature of Cohn's effort. Clearly the very fact of posting the laws indicates both the noble design for the new civilization and the necessity of re-directing its subjects onto the path of virtue.

The seven commandments that Malamud writes for his protagonist are:

1. We have survived the end of the world; therefore cherish life. Thou shalt not kill.

2. Note: God is not love, God is God. Remember Him.

3. Love thy neighbor. If you can't love, serve—others, the community. Remember the willing obligation.

4. Lives as lives are equal in value but not in ideas. Attend the Schooltree.

5. Blessed are those who divide the fruit equally.

6. Altruism is possible, if not probable. Keep trying. See 3 above.

7. Aspiration may improve natural selection. Chimpanzees may someday be better living beings than men were. There's no hurry but keep it in mind.

These prescriptions encapsulate the aspirations for a good life in a secular but spiritual society. Over the years Malamud has declared the formative influences on his artistry to be World War II and the Holocaust, the racial strife of the last few decades, and the nuclear threat of the Cold War. All of these themes are reflected in Cohn's hopes and fears for the primate...

(The entire section is 778 words.)