How do you interpret the title of the story?

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Bernard Malamud's title "The Prison" works on a number of levels. As has been suggested, Tommy's situation includes various types of prisons in the form of "the unendurably slow hours and endless drivel" of the candy shop he has been saddled with as well as the prison of identity that Rosa creates by changing his name from Tony to Tommy. Further, any major decision he has made has either been usurped or vetoed by his family. Even his decision to make more money by adding a slot machine to the store is something he frets about until his father-in-law finally destroys the machine. He is trapped in a terrible relationship with those around him. For Tommy, "[m]ornings had been his best time of day because Rosa stayed upstairs cleaning." However, even when alone, Tommy is trapped, as he is also in a prison internally:

Time rotted in him, and all he could think of the whole morning, was going to sleep in the afternoon, and he would wake up with the sour remembrance of the long night in the store ahead of him while everybody else was doing as he damn pleased. He cursed the candy store and Rosa, and cursed, from its beginning, his unhappy life.

When Tommy discovers that a young girl is stealing from him on a weekly basis, he finds himself unable to decide how to respond. Initially, he wants to catch and assault her, but then he thinks of a time in the past when he, too, was somewhat dishonest. He then goes through a series of half-decisions and second-guesses regarding those decisions and never ends up acting until Rosa catches the girl in the act weeks later. In this moment, Tommy hits Rosa and then lies, saying he let the girl take the candy. This hurts Rosa, and Tommy's only reward for protecting the girl is for her to stick her tongue out at him as her mother drags her out of the store.

In the end, the prison of Tommy's life has many facets. Both the store and the expectations of his wife and in-laws imprison him to an extent, but the most insidious prison of all is that of his own mind.

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If you knew nothing about the book, other than the title, how would you interpret it? "Prison" sounds closed, dark, regimented, disciplined, monotonous, restrictive and isn't a place you'd like to be.

Then, as you read the book, you find out that the setting of the book is actually a candy store. Candy stores could be described as fun, bright, spontaneous, a treat, for children, happy places. The title and the setting are therefore in direct contrast.

Would you have guessed that the book was about a family working in a candy store from the title?

For Tony, the store is a prison. He's stuck doing twelve-hour shifts, with little personal time (an hour in the afternoon, in which he naps). There's no possibility of 'escape'. There are other hints of 'prison life': Rosa gives Tony a new name (Tommy), just like prisoners being referred to by an ID number.

There are references to petty, and more serious, crimes that occur during the novel.

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