Please identify and explain the significance of symbols in Bernard Malamud's "The Magic Barrel."

There are several significant symbols in Bernard Malamud's "The Magic Barrel." Salzman is symbolic of spiritual wisdom and is associated with fish, which have biblical symbolism. The moon laying an egg symbolizes the new beginning Salzman offers Leo, and the tea Leo makes for Salzman symbolizes Leo's acceptance of this new beginning. Stella's red shoes symbolize prostitution, while her white dress symbolizes purity and a fresh start.

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Malamud's story abounds in symbol after symbol. I will touch on just a few.

Salzman functions as a symbol of divine grace; he represents the spiritual. He is a mysterious figure, unearthly, bony (like a fish), and at times he seems ready to fade away. When Leo rushes to his apartment to find him, his wife says she is never sure where he is: he comes and goes. His office is not a real space, nor is his magic barrel real: all of these are symbols of the elusive quality of the divine force he represents.

Salzman is strongly associated with fish. He smells of fish and comes to Leo's place eating fish, and his apartment smells of fish. Fish in the New Testament is a symbol closely associated with Jesus, an individual considered by Jews to be a prophet of God, suggesting that Salzman is also a prophet sent to bring wisdom and divine grace to Leo. This is ironic, as Leo is the rabbinical student, but Leo himself realizes he is studying to become a rabbi because he does not yet love God.


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