Idiots First Analysis
by Bernard Malamud

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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Superficially, this story is typical of the dark mood of literary naturalism. Its realistic setting and effective Yiddish dialect heighten these effects. Beginning with his first hints that the mysterious Ginzburg might be more than simply another character, though, Malamud gradually builds toward the mystical vision at the end, which totally changes the meaning of the piece. With the exception of the role of Ginzburg, symbols are used sparingly and seem an uncontrived aspect of the narrative. This is true of the various characters who represent the failure of human values, and even more true of the several references to the sky and stars. Only at the end of the story, when Ginzburg beholds the “shimmering, starry, blinding light that produced darkness,” does the reader connect the heavens and the stars, points of light in a dark universe, with God. Malamud’s ability to combine realism and mysticism in a style that does justice to both in large measure accounts for the powerful impact of “Idiots First.”


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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