Analysis

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 735

The four stories included in Bloodshed, and Three Novellas were written between 1964 and 1974; during this time, Ozick finished the novel Trust (1966) and moved increasingly into writing shorter fiction. As she states in the preface to this collection, Ozick believes “that stories ought to judge and interpret the...

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The four stories included in Bloodshed, and Three Novellas were written between 1964 and 1974; during this time, Ozick finished the novel Trust (1966) and moved increasingly into writing shorter fiction. As she states in the preface to this collection, Ozick believes “that stories ought to judge and interpret the world.” Because of her deep respect for Hebraic law and tradition, Ozick’s fictions express the anxiety that creative writing is a variety of idolatry; her challenge is to write a morally acceptable story. To achieve this goal, she exposes the deceptions behind the magical lure of fiction. For Ozick, these temptations are gender-neutral.

“A Mercenary” and “Bloodshed” provide a dual investigation of the battle between paganism and monotheism. The doubling effect is evident in the description of the childhoods of the main characters: Ngambe had a happy boyhood running in the lush forests of his homeland, but Lushinski was forced to flee into snowy woods from Polish peasants who would deliver him to the Nazis. Both men view Europe as savage and dangerous. Ngambe’s choice of paganism, however, indicates an affirmation of his tradition. On the other hand, Lushinski rejects his identity as a Jew. To screen himself through fiction, Lushinski makes his childhood a talk-show topic, managing to convert his Polish forest escape into an exaggerated slapstick. Underscoring Ozick’s concern with the re-creation of existing stories, several key episodes in Lushinski’s tale are obvious references to Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird (1965). Nothing about Lushinski the storyteller is certain except his rejection of his tradition. When severing relations with Lushinski, Ngambe chooses the most potent weapon, the retelling of a story, to name Lushinski as a Jew.

In “Bloodshed,” revealing the dangers of attempted assimilation remains a priority. Opposing Bleilip’s skepticism is the profound faith of the rebbe and his followers. Continuing Ozick’s dual structure, the Hasidic community is divided in two; half-built houses in the half-finished town must await the carpenter who will not work during the half year that he teaches Gemara. The Hasids’ monotheism proclaims their unity, while Bleilip’s secularism expresses itself in the destructive force of his two guns. The rebbe asserts that the toy gun, the symbol, is the object to be most feared. After Bleilip confesses his murder of a pigeon with the real gun, the rebbe forces him to acknowledge his occasional moments of faith. The rebbe has uncovered the believer underneath the “mistaken life” of Bleilip and presents him with the choice of either becoming Esau or entering the tents of Jacob.

The last two novellas in this collection turn from conflict between two male protagonists to single female protagonists who are lured by idolatry. In “An Education,” Una is introduced by her college friend to the Chimeses, a husband and wife who are masterful in their construction of fictions to elevate their lives. Clement Chimes has changed his name from Chaims, a Hebrew word meaning life, to Chimes, with its airy and musical associations. Further, he has disowned his heritage by enrolling in a seminary, marrying a woman named Mary, and naming his daughter Christina. The sterility of this choice of artifice rather than life is indicated through the death of the Chimeses’ daughter through neglect. By arranging an alternate marriage between two unimaginative but productive people, the disillusioned Una affirms the acknowledgment of heritage. Una, whose name allegorically represents truth in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590-1596), remains an unmarried college professor, the historian of other people’s lives.

Ozick’s cautionary tales about the dangers of idolizing creativity continue with “Usurpation,” the most structurally complex story in this book. In the first three fictions, film plots, plays, books, and newspaper articles are all retold or referred to by various characters; “Usurpation” further examines authorial reliance on various sources for inspiration. This re-creation of Malamud’s “The Silver Crown” reflects Ozick’s particular concerns through the narrator’s expressed desire to “throw over being a Jew” and to “make a little god, a silver godlet.” Although all the authors referred to in this novella are male and are not particularly attractive as personalities, the nested stories reveal that the female narrator is nevertheless anxious to follow them in their magical pagan pursuits. Ozick peels back the curtain veiling the creative process to lessen its power. Through these stories, she judges her characters, and only those who reject paganism prosper.

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