Analysis

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Last Reviewed on September 18, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 364

Art scholar Arthur Fidelman identifies as an American first and a Jew second. His experiences in Rome, and particularly his dealings with the Jewish refugee Shimon Susskind, reveal to him how such identification has blinded him to his responsibilities, both to his fellow Jews and to humanity more broadly. His fascination with the historical architecture of Rome on his arrival is ironic, in that while he finds these monuments of classical civilization remarkable, it is not until much later in the novel that the far more recent and relevant history of the region—namely, the persecution of Jewish people during World War II—truly registers in his mind. When Fidelman first meets Susskind, the pair’s clothing is described in depth by the author so as to show the difference between their financial and social situations. Susskind’s repeated requests for a suit throughout the story indicate Susskind’s desire to equalize the two men, to force Fidelman into recognition of his Jewish identity. Susskind makes other attempts to achieve this same result, as when he advises Fidelman to cut his spaghetti, reminding him, that after all, “we” are not Italians.

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From the start, Fidelman resists the other man’s advances, responding with hostility to Susskind’s initial Hebrew greeting and offering him money, the only currency that Fidelman understands as a capitalist and individualist, when the other man is asking for his suit: a symbol of the identity Fidelman wears as a kind of disguise. But when Susskind steals Fidelman’s manuscript, he symbolically robs Fidelman of what he would not voluntarily give—namely, his identity as an American scholar, studying the art of Giotto with its distinctly Christian themes. Fidelman’s pursuit of Susskind is also a pursuit of truth, in which he encounters more than once evidence of Jewish sufferings during the war and is exposed more generally to the realities of life in the Jewish ghettos of Rome. The eventual revelation he has once he has found his quarry is not complete in nature, in that Susskind and the truths he represents still run from Fidelman, despite his shouted assurances that he holds no grudge against Susskind for his theft.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 276

Bernard Malamud’s key framework involves the use of the journey-quest motif joined with pursuit and then reversal, so that Fidelman, initially the one hounded by Susskind, becomes the pursuer. The episodes consist of sharply focused encounters between the two key characters, though some critics find Susskind to be the central character of the story. In review, however, the reader will sense the balance between the mythic characterization of Susskind, the survivor, and Fidelman—the man who would have faith—learning through their interaction. When Fidelman begins the pursuit of Susskind, he enters Susskind’s life, and Fidelman’s quest for knowledge shifts from “static” words in the libraries and the scrutiny of the pictures on the walls to an awareness of the hidden life that generated Giotto’s compassion. For Fidelman, this hidden life is found in the synagogue, in the reminders of Auschwitz, and in the freedom-seeking connivance of Susskind.

Within this journey-quest framework, Malamud sets dream sequences that show the reader the subconscious awareness growing in Fidelman. Susskind, the magical, appears and vanishes in dreams as he does in Fidelman’s conscious life. In the dream of Jewish catacombs, Fidelman...

(The entire section contains 827 words.)

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