What are the characters like in Bernard Malamud's short story "The First Seven Years"?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Bernard Malamud's short story "The First Seven Years," set just after the atrocities suffered under Hitler's regime during World War II, the protagonist Feld proves to be a very practical, caring, and sympathetic man.

Feld is an uneducated shoemaker and owner of a shop. Yet, he always aspires to achieve better, especially to achieve better for his daughter Miriam. In the very first paragraph, the narrator describes him as "a practical man," and the story, within in reason, shows that that is indeed the case. As a practical man, he feels proud of the peddler's boy Max for pursuing a college education. He also wishes his daughter had accepted the chance to go to college and was saddened when she refused, saying she wants "to be independent" and to "find a job" instead. In her mind, she sees education, which is only reading books, as a waste of time when she could be earning money instead. But since Feld is so devoted to wanting better for Miriam, he very practically sets his daughter up on a date with Max. He is disappointed when Miriam decides Max is a bore and that the relationship will come to nothing.

There is one point in the story, however, when Feld does not demonstrate practicality. When Sobel confesses the reason why he had worked for Feld as his assistant for five long years, earning petty wages, was because Sobel was in love with Miriam, Feld's initial reaction is to feel deceived and grow angry. However, he takes pity on Sobel when he sees Sobel break down into sobs. Though Feld hates the idea of Miriam marrying Sobel and becoming the wife of a shoemaker, hating the idea that Miriam will not have a life better than her own mother's, as a practical, sympathetic man, Feld agrees to let Sobel ask Miriam for her hand in marriage if Sobel agrees to wait to ask for two more years.

Hence, as we can see, Feld's hopes for Miriam and his ability to sympathize with and reason with Sobel shows that Feld is a practical, caring, and sympathetic character.