(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Angel Levine,” part fable and part fantasy, is yet another example of Malamud’s brotherhood theme. The New Yorker Manischevitz, a typical Malamudian Job-like victim, seeks relief from his suffering and aid for his sick wife, Fanny. In the Malamudian world, help comes from human rather than divine sources, represented here by a Jewish black man/angel, Angel Levine. Manischevitz can only wonder why God has failed to send him help in the form of a white person. The tailor’s subsequent refusal of aid, which is saturated with egotistical pride, fails to lead to relief.

Eventually, Manischevitz, in pursuit of aid, roams into Harlem, where, finding Angel Levine in Bella’s bar, he overhears the essential Malamudian lesson about the divine spark in all people: “It de speerit,” said the old man. “From de speerit arize de man. . . . God put the spirit in all things.”

Colorblind at last, Manischevitz can now believe that the same spirit dwells within every human, uniting all. Manischevitz is rewarded by the sight of a dark figure flying with dark wings. The final meaning of his experience he conveys to Fanny when he admits, “Believe me, there are Jews everywhere.” Here he is Malamud’s raisonneur mouthing the familiar theme of brotherhood.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 895 words.)