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ID 32088
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The Magic Barrel: An Upward Spiral of the Spirit
creator
NDC
English and American literature
abstract
Bernard Malamud carefully arranged the thirteen stories of The Magic Barrel in their present order. The arrangement depends neither on chronological order nor on the kinds of settings and characters in the stories. Ultimately, only the study of the contents discloses Malamud's intentions in the arrangement.

The contents of the stories reveal an arrangement in which there is a certain structure with an axial line. The axial line is Malamud's ideal human relationship. Though each book uses different words for it, such as "sympathy," "love," "trust," "responsibility," the basic idea is that a man has to sympathize with other people's sufferings, share with them whatever little he has, and suffer and live together with them. The man who can practice this ideal relationship is often regarded as "a Jew," a word which Malamud uses symbolically, in accord with the general tendency in the States, after the Holocaust, to consider the Jews as moral men who have suffered.

According to the idea of "a Jew," the stories are divided into four groups. In the first four stories ("The First Seven Years," "The Mourners," "The Girl of My Dreams" and "Angel Levine"), the heroes learn how to be "a Jew," but the brightness, purity and relief at the end of the stories soften unnecessarily the harshness and severity of life as "a Jew." Therefore, though the heroes seem to be rescued, they reach a stage generally and optimistically believed to be a heaven, which is, in fact, only a pseudo-heaven for Malamud. The second group of four stories ("Behold the Key," "Take Pity," "The Prison" and "The Lady of the Lake") are free from fair illusions of heaven but their heroes do not learn to stand up to the severity of the real world as "a Jew" and so remain in a spiritual hell. In the next three stories ("A Summer's Reading," "The Bill" and "The Last Mohican"), the heroes have not learned how to live as "a Jew," but there is an angel for each of them. Led by his angel, each hero struggles for his growth. It may safely be said, therefore, that the heroes live in a spiritual purgatory. The last three stories ("The Last Mohican, also included" in the third group, "The Loan" and "The Magic Barrel") are the most peculiar to Malamud. His romanticism claims that the heroes know, or learn at the end, how to live as "a Jew," while his pessimism predicts that their future is very dark. In the juxtaposition of his romanticism and pessimism, their softness and severity fuse into a "bitter-sweet" atmosphere. As this "bittersweetness" is the exact element which belongs to the life of "a Jew," the heroes reach a real heaven for Malamud, however different this real heaven looks from the ordinary idea of heaven.

In conclusion, The Magic Barrel spiritually grows upwards in a spiral along the axial line given by the concept of "a Jew," from a pseudo-heaven to a real heaven.
journal title
Studies in American Literature
issue
Issue 19
start page
48
end page
59
date of issued
1983-06-20
publisher
中・四国アメリカ文学会
issn
0388-0176
ncid
language
jpn
nii type
Journal Article
HU type
Journal Articles
DCMI type
text
format
application/pdf
text version
publisher
department
Graduate School of Letters