Analysis of Bernard Malamud's "The Magic Barrel" Essay

Analysis of Bernard Malamud's "The Magic Barrel" Essay

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In the traditional Jewish community, the arranged marriage is the approved model for marital relations. Arranged marriages still continue to exist today in modern orthodox Jewish communities. The shadchanim, or marriage brokers, were respected members of society. Often, the shadchanim were the Rabbis, who viewed the arranging of marriages as one of their duties to the community. Through time, however, the arranging of marriages lost its distinction and became the livelihood for the lower classes in the Jewish community. The professional shadchanim were portrayed as a kind of a businessman and con man rolled into one; he was someone who was only eager to earn him commission from closing a success marriage deal. (Israel online)

Bernard Malamud's "The Magic Barrel" is the classic modern story portraying the shadchan as a con artist. Pinye Salzman is the marriage broker employed by the Rabbinical student Leo Finkle to find him "a suitable bride." It is also a classic story which gives both Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike a clear picture of how women are treated in an orthodox Jewish society.

Salzman categories women in his cards according to three criteria: family, dowry and finally, physical statistics such as age, attractiveness, et cetera. This is Salzman's assessment of women. "`First comes family, amount of dowry, also what kind of promises, Salzman replied... `After comes pictures, rabbi.'" (Malamud 195) Out of the six cards that Salzman presents, the reader only becomes acquainted with one of them. The rest of the women remain dehumanized and objectified as cards, never to challenge or redeem themselves from Salzman's categorical descriptions. This phenomenon is to repeat itself in Finkle's viewing of pictures of pote...


... middle of paper ...


...sness and being loveless to Stella, in how her picture (in its apparent evilness and abandon) seems to appear in his eyes. Thus, by willing to convert her, to change her, to dominate her will with his own, Finkle seeks redemption for himself. He will be a renewed man, a man with a high purpose of returning this "fallen woman" to the fold. Thus Stella becomes an outlet for Finkle to practice his Rabbinical studies; furthermore, in her character Finkle will have the chance to rectify social wrongs, such as the strained relations between father and daughter, or perhaps between "fallen woman" and society.

Sources:

Israel, Steve. "The Jewish Cycle." Department for Jewish Zionist Traditions http://www.jafi.org.il/education/lifecycle/jewishlc/04-6.html

Malamud, Bernard. The Magic Barrel.

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