In Bernard Malamud's “The Magic Barrel,” there are many examples that call to mind the supernatural, such as a witch or monster or angel, in Leo’s view of women. For instance, when Leo first meets Lily, she innocently asks him how he decided to become a rabbi. However, Leo sees more than a casual question, and when he leaves, he behaves almost as if he is under a curse. He cannot function well for several days. It is almost as if Lily has cast a spell on him.
When he is in her presence, he begins to think of himself as “some mystical figure.” He then sees
a profusion of loaves of bread go flying like ducks high over his head, not unlike the winged loaves by which he had counted himself to sleep last night.
Malamud mixes symbols of purity and impurity here. The loaves are mentioned twice. In the first allusion, Leo is cursed by Lily. In the second allusion, Leo likens the loaves to the “winged” loaves he had seen the night before in his dreams. The term “winged” often refers to angels. Thus, he first equates Lily to a being that can curse him, but then connects her to angelic symbols.
The week after his meeting with Lily “was the worst of his life. He did not eat and lost weight. His beard darkened and grew ragged.” Again, this all seems very supernatural, as if Lily had cursed him. Salzman leaves the package of photos of six different women. The pictures "stank of fish.” This seems to be more of a comment on Leo’s somewhat misogynistic view of women, rather than any reflection on the women themselves.
What then excites him about Salzman’s daughter seems to be the contradictions of good and evil he sees in her. Even the words that Malamud uses suggest some sort of spell. Her eyes “were hauntingly familiar” and “yet absolutely strange.” He also “experienced fear of her,” as if she were an evil supernatural creature such as a witch or monster. Moreover, he “received an impression, somehow, of evil” and he shuddered, as one might in the presence of evil.
Salzman tells Leo that Stella is “a wild one,” but Leo will not be dissuaded. He is drawn to that wild essence, almost as one is drawn—and simultaneously repulsed—by an evil spirit, a witch or a monster. Finally, Leo “then concluded to convert her to goodness, himself to G-d. The idea alternately nauseated and exalted him.” Stella is an evil creature, but Leo will make her good. Again, this reflects Leo’s misogynistic view of women and their connection to evil. If he is successful in making her good, he himself will be able to have a connection with G-d.