The First Seven Years

by Bernard Malamud

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What is the mood and point of view in "The First Seven Years"?

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The overall mood of the story is rather muted and perhaps a little sad. The story depicts the lives of poor Jewish immigrants in mid-twentieth century America, with memories of the Holocaust all too fresh and the struggle to establish a living in a new country all too evident. The poverty of the main characters is plain in the descriptions given of them and their surroundings. For instance, when Feld goes to visit Sobel, he finds that he lives in a wretched little room:

The room was a small, poor one, with a single window facing the street. It contained a narrow cot, a low table and several stacks of books piled haphazardly around on the floor along the wall, which make him think how queer Sobel was, to be uneducated and read so much.

The books strewn around in this shabby, depressing room remind us of its inhabitant's striving for better things. Feld might think it 'queer' that a man with no formal education reads so voraciously, but it illustrates Sobel's intelligent and inquiring mind which is undefeated by his external circumstances. Much the same can be said of Feld, who despite his own hard life continues to dream of better things for his daughter. The mood of the story is evocative of the lives of people who do not give in to adversity, but continue with quiet endurance. Their lives may appear bleak on the outside but they are not without hope.

The point of view given in the story is that of Feld. He does not tell his own story but we are given a continual insight into his thoughts, and we see events and other characters from his perspective. This technique is known as limited third-person narration. It allows us to empathise with Feld's struggles and hopes, and his attitude towards other characters - most notably, perhaps, his burst of compassion for Sobel at the end - affects our reaction to these characters also.

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