In Bernard Malamud's "The First Seven Years," where can we detect Feld's initial reluctance to acknowledge the unspoken relationship between Miriam and Sobel? Feld later admits that he suspected at sometime, but where do we as readers get clues about this suspicion before the final argument between Feld and Sobel?
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Malamud is gifted at subtly disclosing layers of psychological and emotional depths and elements that even his characters are not aware of, as Feld says, he "had never so much as thought it consciously, but he had felt it ...."
In keeping with this, Malamud artfully discloses Feld's reluctance toward romantic feelings between Sobel and Miriam early in the story. When the narrator--who has the very voice of Feld himself, though the narrator is a third-person narrator and therefore not Feld--describes the conversation Feld has with Miriam about getting a college education, we know then that the friendship between Miriam and Sobel is one of more intimate feeling than of friendship. Miriam responds to her father that she feels no need for a college education because education is books and that Sobel would continue to "advise her on" books. Feld's response gives our clue to his reluctance to realize the true nature of the relationship between Sobel and Miriam: Feld was "greatly grieved" by her response.
As for education, what was it, she asked, but books, which Sobel, who diligently read the classics, would as usual advise her on. Her answer greatly grieved her father.
The clue about his initial reluctance to admit the true situation is confirmed by the narrator when this disclosure about Sobel is juxtaposed with the first appearance in Feld's shoe shop of "Max the college boy." Malamud contrasts Sobel with Max and through their juxtaposition exposes Feld's dreams, which contrast and conflict with Miriam's dreams. Additional confirmation comes when he confesses "the truth" to himself that he wishes her to marry an educated man who can give her a better life than the one he gave her mother:
the shoemaker’s mind at last came to grips with the truth—let her marry an educated man and live a better life.
Similarly, we, as readers, get our first clue as to Feld's suspicions early in the story. When the narrator is describing the working relationship between Sobel and Feld, we are told that Sobel demanded, indeed, accepted little in the way of payment for his work and that he had no interest in anything but books, which he devotedly shared with Miriam. We are told that he made copious notes (not annotations in margins, but notebooks of notes) about the texts he leant her and that she read the volumes of notes as thoroughly as she read the texts. In fact, she read the handwritten notes as they were "sanctified" and inscribed by "God."
The narrator tells us, the readers, in this clue that there is a special and binding affinity between Sobel and Miriam, and that the affinity is defined from the start by Miriam's young age since she is in her "fourteenth year":
The amazing thing was that he demanded so little. His wants were few; in money he wasn’t interested—in nothing but books, it seemed—which he one by one lent to Miriam, together with his profuse ... thick pads of commentary ... as his daughter, from her fourteenth year, read page by sanctified page, as if the word of God were inscribed on them.
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