Use of First-Person Narrator

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2052

Upon first reading Malamud's "Black Is My Favorite Color,'' readers may be tempted to feel sorry for the protagonist, Nat Lime, a white, Jewish bachelor who has spent nearly four decades of his life trying— and failing—to find acceptance within the New York African-American community. Nat does so by performing good deeds for, and attempting to develop relationships with, black people. Indeed, Robert Solotaroff referred to the story as one of Malamud's ‘‘understandably painful’’ tales, ‘‘in which the generous, or at least justifiable, intentions of decent people are frustrated.’’ However, when one looks past Nat's self-pitying narration and begins to examine both his actions and his faulty perception of them, Nat's intentions appear neither generous nor justifiable, and the reasons for his lack of acceptance becomes clear.

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In 1963, when Malamud wrote ‘‘Black Is My Favorite Color,’’ he made a striking departure from his other works. As Sidney Richman noted in his 1966 book, Bernard Malamud, the story was "the first time in his writing career that he has entirely forsaken the omniscient point of view.’’ There are some very good reasons why Malamud did this. First, stories narrated in the first person are more personal, since the reader hears a character's thoughts directly, instead of having them filtered by a nameless, third-party voice. Because of this, Nat's account of his life and struggle has more impact on the reader. At the same time, Malamud uses this self-pitying narration to mask several unpleasant facts about Nat, which, when taken collectively, paint Nat in an entirely different light than the way he describes himself to the reader.

As Nat remarks in the beginning of the story, incidents like his black cleaning woman refusing to eat in the same room with him signify his "fate with colored people.’’ He tells the reader that ‘‘black is my favorite color,’’ although ‘‘you wouldn't know it from my luck.’’ Throughout the story, Nat communicates to the reader that his motives have been pure in his attempts to help African Americans, and that he has been repeatedly mistreated: "That's how it is. I give my heart and they kick me in the teeth,'' he notes at the end of the story.

However, perceptive readers who are willing to dig under Nat's self-pitying narration and examine his actions, as well as certain intentionally conspicuous words and phrases that Malamud uses, will realize that Nat's good intentions are misguided and that he fails to understand the true plight of the African-American community. Nat thinks that he is a good person because he treats African Americans as equals, saying that ‘‘there's only one human color and that's the color of blood.’’ However, Nat does do special favors for black people wherever possible. This desire to be charitable is hinted at in the first line of the story, with the very name of the character, ‘‘Charity Quietness.’’ This odd name catches the reader's attention. As Malamud shows that while Nat's "charitable'' acts seem good on the surface, underneath their quiet exterior lurks his real reason for doing them—to feel better about himself. His drive begins in early childhood, when Nat notices the worn-out houses owned by African Americans in his neighborhood and says, "In those days though I had little myself I was old enough to know who was better off, and the whole block of colored houses made me feel bad in the daylight.’’ As a child, Nat knows he is not as poor as people like Buster, an African American who is Nat's age, and he feels guilty about it. This guilt manifests itself in many acts that Nat thinks are well-meaning or charitable, such as taking Buster to the movies, buying him candy, and letting him borrow Nat's comic...

(The entire section contains 9656 words.)

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