(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Throughout his career Malamud has defined himself as an experimental writer. "I [always] wanted to see what I could do," he summarized his...

(The entire section is 1159 words.)

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Calvin Cohn, the only human character in the novel, is complex. His Jewish heritage is important to him; he reveres the memory of his father, the cantor; he carries his Pentateuch; he recites his prayers. He is disturbed by the fact that Buz has been Christianized by Bunder, the scientist who taught him to speak, and he discourages Buz when the chimp wishes to speak of Jesus. In his exchanges with God, Cohn shows reverence and a feisty spirit. He has a wryly humorous point of view.

Realizing that he is the sole surviving human, Cohn becomes a sort of Robinson Crusoe, assuming the role of caretaker and captain. His attempts to educate the chimps show his conviction that he must save some race, even if not the human race; his desire to mate with Mary Madelyn comes from his conviction that life must continue. He is fortunate to have vast knowledge in a number of areas—the plays of William Shakespeare, music, science, Jewish history, and theology.

Cohn’s flaw lies in his eagerness to be not only Adam but also Moses, leading his people, the chimps, from slavery into freedom. In this desire, he calls them away from their own natures into humanlike behavior: speaking English, attending school, wearing clothes, observing Jewish rituals. In each of these areas, Cohn is the master, a near-God. Like Moses, he brings his Admonitions and promulgates them for the community. Unlike Moses, he creates them himself.

Buz, the other major...

(The entire section is 485 words.)