The Complete Stories of Bernard Malamud

by Bernard Malamud

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What is the main point of Bernard Malamud's "Idiot First"?

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In this story, Bernard Malamud poignantly shows the devotion of a father to his son. The limitless power of paternal love, overcoming all limitations, is amply displayed by Mendel's dogged efforts to provide for his son. As his own life races toward its finish line, his only concern is to move his son out of harm's way.

The specific episodes support the father's multi-track campaign to provide for his son after he is gone and show different facets of society that thwart his efforts. Money and belongings are needed for the son's trip, but those who traffic in such goods (e.g., the pawnbroker) cannot provide them. Rather, the people who immerse themselves in spiritual matters (e.g., the rabbi) are best equipped to help. This lesson is as much for Mendel's benefit, as his death approaches, as it is for the son who will survive him.

The son, who is intellectually challenged, needs special care; he is an innocent whose needs must take precedence as his father arranges for his last hours.

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