Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 738

"Black Is My Favorite Color'' appeared for the first time in the Reporter on July 18, 1963. Later that year, it was published in Idiots First, Malamud's second short story collection. His first collection, The Magic Barrel, won the National Book Award for fiction, and many critics continue to praise these short stories as Malamud' s best.

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However, both Idiots First and ‘‘Black Is My Favorite Color’’ have received their fair share of good criticism since they were published. In fact, Sidney Richman, in his 1966 book, Bernard Malamud, stated that the story was "not only one of the best stories in the entire collection but one which deserves to stand with some of the finer pieces in The Magic Barrel.’’ Richman also heralded the story's ‘‘striking departure from the earlier work,’’ noting that the story was the first time in Malamud's career that he employed a first-person narrator, and remarking on the absence of fantasy, which had been present in Malamud's earlier work. ‘‘Malamud seems to be pitting his vision against a firmer reality, to be working with objective experience in a way he had never done before,'' said Richman.

Over the years, many critics have focused on the overt racial themes in the story. In his essay, ‘‘Women, Children, and Idiots First: Transformation Psychology,’’ in Bernard Malamud and the Critics (1970), Samuel Irving Bellman asked whether or not Malamud had a ‘‘special point’’ in his ‘‘reconstructionist view of society, whereby non-Jews turn into Jews. . .. much to their discomfort.'' Bellman believed the answer was "yes," that Malamud was trying to say "the world is losing its oxygen and becoming unfit to live in.’’ In this poisoned world, ‘‘people grow desperate in their plight'' and "make a pitiful spectacle as they fight a losing battle.’’

Critics have also noted the story's relation to Malamud's other works. As Jeffrey Helterman noted in 1978 in his entry on Malamud for the Dictionary of Literary Biography, the story "explores the black-Jewish relations that would become the primary concern of The Tenants.’’ Helterman was also one of several critics who remarked on the futile nature of Nat's efforts, since ‘‘the narrator can never penetrate into the alien culture.'' As Helterman said about Nat, "he tries to help a black blind man home only to discover that even a blind man can tell he is white.’’

On a similar note, a year after Helterman's critique was published, Robert Solotaroff called ‘‘Black Is My Favorite Color’’ one of Malamud's ‘‘understandably painful stories ... in which the generous, or at least justifiable, intentions of decent people are frustrated.’’

Criticism on Malamud experienced a surge in the 1980s, when Malamud selected several of his stories, including ‘‘Black Is My Favorite Color,’’ for publication in his Stories of Bernard Malamud. Many critics praised this collection as they had Malamud's previous collections. Robert Alter of The New York Times Book Review noted that Malamud's...

(The entire section contains 738 words.)

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