Universalizing the Jewish experience.

All of Bernard Malamud’s fiction has been remarkably similar in design and theme. No matter what the changes, he reworks the same “idea.”

The atmosphere in Malamud’s fiction is always one of hard times, gloom, and enclosure. The heroes, usually Jewish, recall by their actions the lives of Samson, Job, Joseph, Ephraim, Hosea, and other Old Testament characters. The pattern of their response to life, moreover, suggests the timelessness of the Arthurian Grail myth and its predecessor, the myth of the Fisher-king. And the imagery and symbols within the novels and stories are consistent with the universal archetypes of Jungian psychology.

Malamud’s plots are also of a piece. The protagonist, insulated from his true self, seeks a new life or a substitute existence. In the process, the new knowledge is sometimes repressed and hidden, with catastrophic results. At other times, the individual incorporates his new awareness into his life, bringing a form of redemption.

Malamud’s characters can also be generalized. Tormented as we first see them (a catalogue of the opening lines of Malamud’s works is a pessimistic melange indeed), Malamud’s heroes despair, rebel, bumble, curse, submit, and seek escape. Critics have noted that Malamud’s major characters often resemble the Schlemiel—“struggling, striving, always en route, but destined never quite to arrive.” The heroines in Malamud’s novels are all like Iris Lemon in The Natural, at once both sweet and sour. Moreover, each is, in the Grailmyth imagery, a “lady of the lake” who protects and nurses orphans and teaches knights. The temptresses, or antiheroines, by contrast, seek to corrupt, reflecting in their actions their own diseased breasts and sexual ...

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