Bernard Malamud Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

At the time Bernard Malamud wrote The Natural, critics did not take baseball novels very seriously. What did Malamud inject into his novel that forced critics to take notice?

How is the theme of the American Dream presented in The Assistant?

On what shortcomings of the academic world does Malamud concentrate in The Assistant?

What historic events and conditions of early twentieth-century Russia are important in The Fixer?

By what techniques does Malamud universalize his recognizably Jewish characters and conflicts?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Bernard Malamud devoted his writing career to fiction. In addition to his highly praised short stories, he wrote seven well-received novels: The Natural (1952), The Assistant (1957), A New Life (1961), The Fixer (1966), The Tenants (1971), Dubin’s Lives (1979), and God’s Grace (1982). He is also the author of many literary essays and reviews.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Of the last half of the twentieth century, Bernard Malamud is one of the best American writers. In his seven novels and numerous short stories, he transcends the Jewish experience so ably chronicled by the so-called Jewish literary renaissance writers (such as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth) by using Jewish life as a metaphor for universal experience. Critic Robert Alter has proclaimed that short stories such as “The First Seven Years,” “The Magic Barrel,” “The Last Mohican,” “Idiots First,” and “Angel Levine” will be read “as long as anyone continues to care about American fiction written in the 20th century.”

Both a traditionalist and an experimenter in his fiction, Malamud won rave reviews, literary plaudits, and many awards. The Magic Barrel brought a National Book Award in 1959. In 1967, The Fixer won for him a second National Book Award as well as a Pulitzer Prize. In addition, he was president of the International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists (PEN Club) from 1979 to 1981.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

While acknowledging the significant achievements of Bernard Malamud (MAL-uh-muhd) as a novelist, many critics believe that the most distinctive and enduring contributions the author made to American fiction are to be found in his short stories, particularly those collected in The Magic Barrel (1958) and Idiots First (1963). Malamud published three more volumes of short fiction in his lifetime: Pictures of Fidelman: An Exhibition (1969), a collection of six linked stories featuring the same protagonist; Rembrandt’s Hat (1973); and The Stories of Bernard Malamud (1983), twenty-five stories largely drawn from previously published volumes. The posthumously published volume The People, and Uncollected Stories (1989) gathers a number of previously uncollected stories, most of them early pieces from the 1940’s but also including two from the 1980’s.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

With novelists such as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud is among the most distinguished of a number of Jewish writers who did much to set the tone of postwar American fiction. Malamud’s singular achievement is to have captured the experience of Jews in the United States at a point of transition between cultures. His characters—not only the Jews but also their Gentile counterparts—are not yet quite a part of American culture, nor have they fully abandoned the old culture of which they are no longer members. Out of this sense of dislocation and the struggle to create a new life, Malamud created most of his early stories and novels. Although not all the novels have Jewish protagonists—the first two in fact do not—the dilemma is constant; the Gentile characters are as displaced and alienated as the Jewish ones. He received numerous awards for his fiction, including two National Book Awards and a Pulitzer Prize.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Abramson, Edward A. Bernard Malamud Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1993. Abramson’s chapter on the short stories is a brief, general introduction, divided into such categories as fantasies, Italian stories, father-son stories, and sociopolitical stories. Echoes a familiar judgment that in his stories Malamud is a moralist in the tradition of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James, but that he writes with the rhythms of Yiddish and the contours of the folktale.

Avery, Evelyn, ed. The Magic Worlds of Bernard Malamud. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001. A wide-ranging collection of essays on Malamud and his writings, including personal memoirs by his members of his family and friends.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Bernard Malamud. New York: Chelsea House, 2000. Part of the Modern Critical Views series, this collection of essays assesses the whole spectrum of Malamud’s writings. Includes a chronology of his life and a bibliography.

Davis, Philip. Bernard Malamud: A Writer’s Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. The first full-length biography of the writer.

Davis, Philip. Experimental Essays on the Novels of Bernard Malamud: Malamud’s People. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1995. A selection of essays examining the long fiction.

Field, Leslie A., and Joyce W. Field, eds. Bernard Malamud and the Critics. New York: New York University Press, 1970. The Fields present a collection of critical essays that are separated into...

(The entire section is 680 words.)