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.