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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Although it takes place in the bustling city of Rome and features a number of minor characters, Bernard Malamud’s “The Last Mohican” focuses on the development of a relationship between two characters in particular. It is the relationship between the two that drives the story above all else.

Arthur Fidelman

Fidelman can be read as something of a frustrating character, given his stubborn resistance to what Malamud implies through the figure of Susskind to be his true identity and moral responsibility. His resistance is also understandable, however, given the carefully constructed identity he has presented to the world up until his arrival in Rome. His initial suspicion of Susskind as being in search of a handout, and his assertion in their subsequent conversation that he feels no responsibility for his fellow man, are both subverted throughout the course of the work, as demonstrated by his increasing kindness toward and emotional investment in Susskind. He first gives the other man a dollar, later five dollars, and finally an overcoat. When Susskind steals Fidelman’s manuscript on Giotto and the pursuer becomes the pursued, Fidelman has come to realize that his desire to catch Susskind is not just about recovering his manuscript, but also about better understanding the truth that the other man has begun revealing to him. Over the course of his search, he passes through various settings and situations synonymous with the European Jewish ghetto in the post-war years. During this pursuit, he also encounters evidence of the recent war and the impact it has had on other Jewish people. The reader is led to assume that the final realization he experiences in Saint Peter’s Basilica is due to the lessons he learned while pursuing Susskind.

Shimon Susskind

Susskind is an archetype of the Jewish refugees who were displaced and scattered across Europe by World War II. Native to the ghettos of Rome, his poverty is suggested by his poor clothing and generally ragged appearance. He possesses an intelligence that surprises his scholarly counterpart, Fidelman, as in his casual claim to know the work of the artist Giotto. Similarly, he is possessed of moral principles and is at several moments during the story cast in the role of moral teacher for Fidelman, instructing him on the merits of individual responsibility and accountability to his fellow human beings. While his body shows the effects of rough living, Susskind is a survivor and is characterized by energy and vibrancy of movement—both in his vigorous pursuit of Fidelman and in his elusiveness in escaping from him. Even at the end of the book, he is portrayed as running, the posture that he has in a sense occupied since the beginning of the narrative.

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