In Bernard Malamud's short story "The First Seven Years," Sobel and Max are rivals for the love of Miriam. Even in this, they are a contrast to one another, since Max has no initial interest in Miriam but agrees to go on a date with her at her father's suggestion, while Sobel has always adored her from a distance without saying anything.
If Max and Sobel were the same, or very similar, then clearly there would not be much of a choice, for Miriam, Feld, or the reader. It is the opposition between the two that give the story its interest. More specifically, the conflict in the story arises from the way in which even the differences between the two are not as clear-cut as they initially seem. Sobel is an old, ugly cobbler's assistant who appears insensitive and without any attraction. Max is an earnest, serious young student, diligently seeking knowledge. Feld wants Max as a son-in-law because he idealizes the young scholar, but Miriam quickly recognizes that Max is a shallow materialist, while Feld comes to see that Sobel has true depth of character. The contrast between the two at the end of the story, therefore, is almost the reverse of what it appeared to be at the beginning.