Critical Context

No matter how one reads the ending, as fantasy or as reality, this novel ends differently from Malamud’s earlier novels. The Malamud hero, from Roy Hobbs in The Natural (1952) to Yakov Bok in The Fixer (1966), is generally left with suggested regeneration and affirmation. In The Tenants, Harry Lesser and Willie Spearmint are dead, with only the last line of comfort, and cold comfort it is to know that “each feels the anguish of the other.” The ending is negative, and if there is affirmation, it is in that negation. The negativist presents truth in that he renders the absurdity of life. The void that Malamud is affirming in this novel is what happens when two potentially creative men become so obsessed with art that they refuse human commitment. The result is sterility in both life and art. Malamud presents them both with a qualifying irony that loves as it condemns in offering them as part of the human condition.