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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 432

"Angel Levine" centers around a tailor in New York City named Manischewitz. After a fire that destroys his business, Manischewitz is in a hopeless state. He had insurance but has to settle lawsuits from customers who were injured, so he's penniless and ill as well, wracked by physical pain and able to work only a few hours a day as a presser; moreover, his wife, Leah, is dying.

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A black man named Alexander Levine appears one night in Manischewitz's flat. Levine describes himself as an angel whose mission is to help him. Manischewitz is skeptical, partly because of the anomaly of Levine being both Jewish and black, and because Levine doesn't have wings. Levine takes leave of him, saying that Manischewitz can find him in Harlem if he needs him.

Manischewitz does go to Harlem and is able to locate Levine with relatively little trouble. However, he finds Levine involved in rather un-angelic activities, seated at a table in a nightclub called Bella's and then dancing with the voluptuous hostess. Manischewitz departs, but back at home he has a dream that convinces him Levine really is an angel. Leah's condition has become hopeless, and Manischewitz returns to Harlem in an effort to locate Levine again.

In Harlem, he finds that the location of Bella's nightclub has been converted to a storefront synagogue. Inside he finds that the worshippers are black men, reading from the Holy Word and the commentaries. They direct him across the street to where the nightclub is now located, and where he finds Levine. Though at first Levine is angry that Manischewitz has confronted him there, the tailor has told him he now believes that Levine has indeed been sent by God. The two return to Manischewitz's flat and go up the stairs, past the tailor's door, to which Levine points and tells him, "That's all been taken care of." Levine continues to the roof, and Manischewitz manages to spot a dark figure flying away, as what first appears a feather drifts down from the sky, then just seems to be snow. Back in his flat, Manischewitz finds that his wife has recovered from her illness and is up dusting the bedroom.

Malamud's story conveys the idea of faith rewarded as well as the theme of brotherhood. Manischewitz grasps that metaphorically, everyone is a Jew, and everyone is black, and his belief in this, and in Levine's angelic nature, rewards him with his wife's recovery. The story is thus similar to other examples of "visitation" fiction such as Dickens's A Christmas Carol and the film It's a Wonderful Life.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 895

Manischevitz has lost everything. His son was killed in the war, and his daughter left home. After a lifetime of work, his tailor shop burned to the ground and could not be rebuilt; his own health is so broken that he can work only a few hours a day as a clothes presser; his wife, Fanny, ruined her own health by taking in washing and sewing, so she is now confined to her bed. Always a religious man, Manischevitz cannot understand how God can have allowed such unreasonable suffering to come to him. In desperation, Manischevitz first prays for an explanation from God, but he quickly changes his prayer to a simple appeal for relief.

Later, while reading the newspaper, Manischevitz has a premonition that someone has entered the apartment. Entering the living room of his small and shabby flat, he discovers a black man sitting at the table reading a newspaper. At first Manischevitz assumes that the visitor is an investigator from the welfare department. When this proves not to be the case, the tailor again asks the man’s identity. This time the man answers with his name, Alexander Levine. Manischevitz is surprised to discover that the black man is a Jew, and even more surprised when Levine tells him, “I have recently been disincarnated into an angel. As such, I offer you my humble assistance, if to offer is within my province and power—in the best sense.”

Manischevitz is unwilling to accept Levine’s characterization of himself, suspecting that he may be the butt of some joke or prank, so he tests him with such questions as “Where are your wings?” and “How did you get here?” Levine answers rather lamely, and even though he is able to recite correctly in Hebrew the Jewish blessing for bread, Manischevitz is unconvinced of his visitor’s authenticity. As the interview reaches a conclusion, Manischevitz accuses Levine of being a fake, and the angel, disappointment registering in his eyes, announces, “If you should desire me to be of assistance to you any time in the near future . . . I can be found . . . in Harlem.” He then disappears.

For a few days after Levine’s visit, both Manischevitz and Fanny seem better, but their condition soon reverts to its former state. The tailor laments his fate, questioning why God should have chosen him for so much unexplained and undeserved suffering. Eventually he comes to wonder if he was mistaken in dismissing Alexander Levine, who indeed might have been sent to help him. In his desperation, he decides to go up to Harlem in search of Levine.

At first he cannot find Levine in Harlem. When he goes into the familiar setting of a tailor shop and asks for Levine by name, the tailor claims never to have heard of him. However, when Manischevitz says, “He is an angel, maybe,” the tailor immediately remembers Levine and indicates that he can be found in a local honky-tonk. Making his way there, Manischevitz peers through the window to see Levine dancing with Bella, the owner of the bar. As they dance by the window, Levine winks at Manischevitz, and the latter leaves for home, convinced of the failure of his mission.

When Fanny is at death’s door, Manischevitz goes to a synagogue to speak to God, but he feels that God has absented himself. In his despair, Manischevitz suffers a crisis of faith and rails against God, “cursing himself for having, beyond belief, believed.” Later that afternoon, napping in a chair, the tailor dreams that he sees Levine “preening small decaying opalescent wings” before a mirror. Convinced that this may be a sign that Levine is an angel, he makes his way again to Harlem in search of him. This time, before arriving at Bella’s honky-tonk, he enters a storefront synagogue, where four black Jews sit studying the Holy Word. Again he asks for Levine—identified by one of the congregation as “the angel”—and is told to look at Bella’s down the street.

Since the previous visit, when Levine was shabbily dressed, things appear to have changed. He now is attired in fancy new clothes and is drinking whiskey with Bella, whose lover he appears to have become. As Manischevitz enters the bar, Levine confronts him, demanding that he state his business. First the tailor acknowledges that he believes Levine is Jewish, to which the black replies only by asking if he has anything else to say. When Manischevitz hesitates, Levine says, “Speak now or fo’ever hold off.” After an agonizing moment of indecision, Manischevitz says, “I think you are an angel from God.”

Levine changes back into his former clothes and returns to the tailor’s flat with him. When Manischevitz asks him to come in, the angel assures him that everything has been take care of and tells him to enter, while he “takes off.” Instead, Manischevitz follows him to the roof, only to find the door padlocked. Peeping through a broken window, the tailor believes that he can see “a dark figure borne aloft on a pair of strong black wings.” A feather drifts downward, but when Manischevitz catches it, it proves to be only a snowflake.

Returning to his flat, Manischevitz finds Fanny up and about, busily cleaning. “A wonderful thing, Fanny,” Manischevitz says, “Believe me, there are Jews everywhere.”

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