Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although “Rembrandt’s Hat” uses a third-person narrator to present the characters, much of the story is built around Arkin’s interior monologues. These monologues, delivered by the super-sensitive art historian, add a special comic touch to the story. The monologues, as well as the dialogue, are presented in the Jewish idiom of New York City.

Malamud’s title secures the reader’s attention at the outset, and he focuses the opening two pages of the story on this white cloth hat. The third-person narrator says that “Rubin wore it like a crown”; the last line in the story, describing the hat as a “crown of failure and hope,” returns to this image, investing it with a deeper understanding of the artist’s quest.

Malamud keeps a sharp thematic focus on the two men; indeed, they are the only characters who appear in the story at all except for the two-sentence appearance of an art student who gives Arkin the cowboy hat. The only aspect of the men that is mentioned is their mutual interest in art and in each other. Arkin’s thoughts—through which the reader sees Rubin for the most part—are kept focused on Rubin and on their strained relationship. In this way, Malamud keeps the reader focused on his main interest: the difficulties of a life devoted to art.