Take Pity Analysis
by Bernard Malamud

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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This is the first of Malamud’s stories to be written from an omniscient point of view. This device more readily evokes a gothic mood, one characterized, that is, by desolate settings and macabre, mysterious, and violent events. The dialogue superbly demonstrates the Yiddish idiom. One example is when Davidov asks Rosen how the grocer died. “On this I am not an expert,” Rosen replies. “You know better than me.” “Say in one word how he died,” Davidov impatiently demands. Rosen answers, “From what he died?—he died, that’s all.” Davidov presses, “Answer, please, this question.” Laconically Rosen responds, “Broke in him something. That’s how.” Davidov asks, “Broke what?” and Rosen retorts, “Broke what breaks.”

Malamud masterfully blends the banal and commonplace with the mystical and the spiritual. Through the first part of “Take Pity,” for example, Rosen speaks with an angel whose appearance, speech, and demeanor are anything but angelic. Davidov behaves like a drab, ordinary, Yiddish-speaking mortal. Rosen also speaks and acts as if, despite his death, he were alive. The reader accepts these characterizations until Malamud reveals, smoothly and without explicit explanations, Davidov’s real identity and Rosen’s true condition.

In “Take Pity,” Malamud facilitates this merger of the real and the unreal by using a spare setting and employing almost cryptic prose. This allows his characters to move easily between worlds—a device that Malamud often employed—without things seeming in the least out of the ordinary. Neither Rosen’s nor Davidov’s actions or speech betray their incongruities to the reader, and Malamud introduces no digressions or distractions. His writing rivets on the essential. Rosen and Davidov are not engaged in chit-chat. Rosen is not interested in the latest news, gossip, trends, fads, fashions, or politics. He is grappling with frightening glimpses of his own inner nature. Through his intense concentration on the essentials of Rosen’s inner struggle, Malamud permits Rosen to discover an inner resilience and depth, although partly discovered in death, that Rosen never knew he possessed.

Critics generally do not rank “Take Pity” among the finest of Malamud’s short stories. Some find that it suffers from the author’s omniscient narration, that is, from the absence of Malamud’s own voice. Others find it too gothic and pessimistic. Still others question the discrepancy between its supporting structure and its abrupt ending—Rosen’s cursing of Eva. There is general agreement, however, that “Take Pity,” like much of Malamud’s writing, is powerful, distinctive, and rare in its ability to join...

(The entire section is 629 words.)