Style and Technique

The story is the monologue of a first-person narrator, related in a conversational style with some humor. Nat intentionally tells the reader everything he knows in a tone that varies from self-deprecating and joking to defensive, passionate, or matter of fact. He is unaware, however, of how much he unintentionally reveals about himself and of how certain of his weaknesses dominate, placing his good intentions in the background.

As a convincing and largely credible narrator, Nat describes in realistic detail the New York that visitors expect and fear—a city in which youths rob liquor stores, innocent people are mugged, landlords squeeze money out of their ghetto tenants, and altruism is suspect. The focus is on the black ghetto, seen by an outsider, a Jew who is himself similarly stereotyped by the larger society.

The naïve, even unrealistic suggestion of color in the title becomes a metaphor for the racial identification that dominates the story’s images. Just as blackness in a literal sense hinders vision and therefore calls for contrast, contrast between black people and white people becomes Malamud’s technique for connecting plot with theme. Most of the story’s episodes build around contrasting views generated by racial differences; in one way or another, each episode represents a larger societal issue. Images of blood parallel those of blackness and are equally powerful in conveying the philosophical issue undergirding the story: Nat’s growing awareness of “one human color . . . the color of blood.”

With these techniques, an apparently rambling personal reminiscence is transformed into a skillfully controlled journey toward a universal human truth.

Historical Context

After both World Wars, blacks from the Southern United States migrated north in large numbers. Most were only able to...

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Literary Style

Point of View
This was the first story that Malamud wrote in the first-person point of view—characterized by the use of "my"...

(The entire section is 1004 words.)

Compare and Contrast

1960s: Motown music, a simple, catchy, distinctly African-American sound, dominates the pop charts. Its performers, all African...

(The entire section is 154 words.)

Topics for Further Study

Many regard Rosa Parks's refusal to give up her bus seat in 1955 as the official beginning of the Civil Rights movement, even though it was...

(The entire section is 262 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

America and I: Short Stories by American Jewish Women Writers, published by Beacon Press in 1990, contains selections from female...

(The entire section is 415 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

Abramson, Edward A., Bernard Malamud Revisited, Twayne Publishers, 1993, p. 90.

Alter, Iska,"The...

(The entire section is 533 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Abramson, Edward A. Bernard Malamud Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1993.

Astro, Richard, and Jackson J. Benson, eds. The Fiction of Bernard Malamud. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1977.

Avery, Evelyn, ed. The Magic Worlds of Bernard Malamud. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Bernard Malamud. New York: Chelsea House, 2000.

Davis, Philip. Experimental Essays on the Novels of Bernard Malamud: Malamud’s People. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1995.

Field, Leslie A.,...

(The entire section is 187 words.)