What are Leo Finkle's beliefs in Malamud's "The Magic Barrel?"

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Malamud's "The Magic Barrel," at the start of the story Leo Finkle wants to be a rabbi. He calls Salzman in to help as a matchmaker, a time-honored tradition (and an old-fashioned tradition) to arrange a marriage for him.

Leo believes it will be "easier to win a congregation" if he has a wife. He has been studying at the Yeshiva University for several long and challenging years, and is preparing to graduate. He tells Lily Hirschorne (a mismatch that Salzman attempts to make with Leo):

I was always interested in the Law.

However, as Lily presses Leo for information about his faith and how he came to be called to be a man of God, Leo finally realizes that Lily imagines him to be some sort of "mystical figure" or "passionate prophet." He is not at all what she wishes him to be. At that point in time, he realizes...

"I am not...a talented religious person," and in seeking words to go on, found himself possessed by shame and fear. "I think...that I came to God not because I loved Him, but because I did not."

This epiphany, this new and devastating knowledge that Leo discovers about himself, changes the way he sees himself in the world, for everything he has been doing for years is based on a relationship with God that he does not have, and seems to regret not having. And in learning this about himself, he realizes he is alone and must have love in his life...something an arranged marriage would not give him.

While Leo's character is studying to be a rabbi at the start of the story, by the end of the story he is confused and looking for meaning in his life, uncertain of his faith—and finally aware of his uncertainty, and hoping to find love—believing he has found love.


Read the study guide:
The Magic Barrel

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