In Malamud's "The Magic Barrel," how does the writer use modes such as anecdote and comparison? 

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Malamud's "The Magic Barrel," the author uses a number of devices to provide information about the main characters and drive the plot forward.

An anecdote is an event that is told in a narrative form about an interesting or informative event.

Writers may use anecdotes to clarify abstract points, to humanize individuals, or to create a memorable image in the reader's mind.

One anecdotal part of the story is the narrator's description of Leo and Lily Hirschorne's meeting. The purpose of the anecdote is two-fold: it shows that Salzman cannot really be trusted, for he describes Lily as a much younger woman, and leads her to believe that Leo is an intently religious, prophet-like man of God.

...Then it came to him that [Lily] was talking not about Leo Finkle, but of a total stranger, some mystical figure, perhaps even passionate prophet that Salzman had dreamed up for her—no relation to the living or dead...

The other purpose the anecdote seems to serve to present Salzman again as a mystical figure that Leo imagines to have magical powers. As Lily and Leo meet, Leo can almost see Salzman...

...somewhere around, hiding in a tree along the street, flashing the lady signals with a pocket mirror; or perhaps a cloven-hoofed Pan, piping nuptial ditties as he danced his invisible way before them...

Comparison is also used extensively as Salzman presents the different women listed on his cards that he wants Leo to consider as wives. Interestingly, none is exactly what Leo wants...each has something "wrong." One is a widow; another is too old. But later (after he sees Stella's picture) Leo has the sense that Salzman arranged the entire situation to turn out exactly as he wanted—for after Leo has studied the cards, and even met one of the women, he becomes aware of the fact that he is not the man of God he believed himself to be. This is perfect for Salzman's plan (if there is, in fact, a plan at all). Knowing his own shortcomings, Stella is someone Leo not only considers, but also falls in love with simply from her picture. While the other women would have been thrilled to marry Leo (for they seem to have been waiting for husbands for some time...note the "much-handled cards"), Stella needs him with a desperation he can finally understand—he is now desperate for love himself. The comparison of the women to what Leo thinks he wants, and later to Stella, are effective in shaping Leo's behavior (it seems), perhaps manipulated by Salzman.