Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 531
"Angel Levine" is a short story by American writer Bernard Malamud. The story—which was adapted into a feature film almost two decades after it was published—centers on a Jewish gentleman reconciling with his religious faith, as well as his faith in his fellow man, with the help of an African American Jewish angel. The story partially explores social issues—especially pertaining to race relations between Jews and blacks—that were palpable in New York City during the 1950s, and the author's message of brotherhood seems to be a reaction to those issues.
My dear God, my soul, sweetheart, did I deserve this to happen to me?
The quote illustrates the desperation of the protagonist as he prays to God after he has just been injured, which results in him not being able to work to support himself and his ill wife. The quote is also important in that it establishes the author's biblical reference to Job, a successful businessman whose faith was tested by God and Satan. The quote sets up the protagonist's trajectory towards questioning his faith. This is evident by his usage of terms of endearment (i.e. "sweetheart"). To the protagonist, God was like a loyal soulmate who had suddenly become unfaithful. The language used in how he relates and communicates to God in the first two paragraphs of the story could also fit in a story about infidelity. As with a failing relationship with a spouse, the protagonist's deteriorating relationship with God seems irreparable.
He had heard of black Jews, but had never met one. It gave an unusual sensation.
While the story was mostly about an elderly Jewish man being tested by God to reinstate his faith in Him, there was also a race relations subtext. For instance, as noted earlier, there were racial tensions between Jews and African Americans in New York City during the mid-20th century, and the two communities lived in close proximity with each other.
In the context of the quote, the protagonist is alarmed when he sees a "burly Negro" in his apartment. This creates a fearful reaction. When Levine tells him his name, this immediately lessens the protagonist's fear, because it sounds like a Jewish name. When Levine confirms that he is indeed Jewish, this shows that the protagonist is someone who is comfortable being around his own ethno-religious kin and that being Jewish would partially override the fact that Levine is an angel in the form of a black man.
This creates a contradictory portrait of the protagonist in that he is both attached to his Jewishness but, at the same time, is losing faith in the teachings of the Torah.
"A wonderful thing, Leyka," Manischewitz said. "There are Jews everywhere."
Expanding the analysis of Quote 2, this memorable final sentence in the story sums up the lesson that the protagonist learned. The word "Jews" could be substituted for the word "brothers," because the lesson he has learned is that there is a brotherhood, or kinship, that unites everyone in the world, and he can be part of this brotherhood if he just opens his arms and mind to other people.