Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As Salzman is employed by Leo to procure a bride, so is he employed by the author as the vehicle through which Leo’s self-discovery is attained. A man of much depth and sorrow, Salzman conceals a pain so great that he rejects even the attentions of a religious man. However, it is only through Leo that he can hope to find peace of mind and a reunited family.

Salzman is an unsuccessful man whose office, his wife tells Leo, is “in the air.” In immigrant English, Salzman explains his lack of success: “When I have two fine people that they would be wonderful to be married, I am so happy that I talk too much. . . . This is why Salzman is a poor man.” The compassion lacking in Leo is discovered in Salzman, whose greatest desire is to provide happiness.

References to Salzman’s ethereal and somewhat mystical qualities recur throughout the story. He appears and disappears in direct, yet unspoken, response to Leo’s needs; he is described as a “skeleton with haunted eyes,” his appearance often “haggard, and transparent to the point of vanishing,” whose magic barrel, Leo concludes, is probably “a figment of the imagination.” In this fusion of the down-to-earth and the otherworldly, the literal and the symbolic, the characterization of Salzman is representative of Bernard Malamud’s distinctive style.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Malamud’s ‘‘The Magic Barrel’’ was first published by the Partisan Review in 1954 and reprinted as the title story in...

(The entire section is 554 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View
Point of view is a term that describes who tells a story, or through whose eyes we see the events of a narrative....

(The entire section is 421 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1950s: Decades of immigration from Eastern and Western Europe have led to a considerable Jewish population in the United States....

(The entire section is 139 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

When did Jewish people settle in large numbers in New York City? Describe the Jewish communities in New York City or in another large...

(The entire section is 105 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

The Jews in America, a work by Arthur Hertzberg, is an accessible and entertaining history of Jewish people in the United States from...

(The entire section is 122 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Antin, Mary. The Promised Land, first published 1912, reprinted, New York: Penguin, 1997.


(The entire section is 222 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Abramson, Edward A. Bernard Malamud Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1993.

Astro, Richard, and Jackson J. Benson, eds. The Fiction of Bernard Malamud. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1977.

Avery, Evelyn, ed. The Magic Worlds of Bernard Malamud. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Bernard Malamud. New York: Chelsea House, 2000.

Davis, Philip. Experimental Essays on the Novels of Bernard Malamud: Malamud’s People. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1995.

Field, Leslie A., and Joyce W. Field, eds. Bernard Malamud: A Collection of Critical Essays. Rev. ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1975.

Field, Leslie A., and Joyce W. Field, eds. Bernard Malamud and the Critics. New York: New York University Press, 1970.

Nisly, L. Lamar. Impossible to Say: Representing Religious Mystery in Fiction by Malamud, Percy, Ozick, and O’Connor. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Ochshorn, Kathleen. The Heart’s Essential Landscape: Bernard Malamud’s Hero. New York: Peter Lang, 1990.

Richman, Sidney. Bernard Malamud. Boston: Twayne, 1966.

Salzberg, Joel, ed. Critical Essays on Bernard Malamud. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987.

Sío-Castiñeira, Begoña. The Short Stories of Bernard Malamud: In Search of Jewish Post-immigrant Identity. New York: Peter Lang, 1998.