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In Bernard Malamud's The Fixer, almost all of Yakov Bok's time is spent in prison. The Fixer is an examination of freedom and its compliment, commitment (Helterman 67 ). Though Bok has no physical freedom, the longer that he is imprisoned, the more true freedom he obtains. Bok is able to attain this freedom through his dreams and hallucinations. These sequences are important because they prevent the story from becoming static, but more important, they illustrate that true freedom lies within one's self.
Yakov Bok is tortured in the government's attempt to obtain his confession to the ritual murder of Zhenia Golov. He is poisoned, strip searched, chained, and nearly frozen to death:
The fixer was chained to the wall all day,and at night he lay on the bedplank, his legs locked in the stocks...the leg holes were tight and chafed his flesh if he tried to turn a little...the straw mattress had been removed from his cell...now in chains, he thought the searches of his body might end but they increased to six a day, three in the morning and three in the afternoon.( 236 )
These tortures leave Bok with no conscious energy to focus against his captors. Thus, it is only through Bok's dreams and hallucinations that he can escape and deal with his imprisonment.
One of the most important freedoms which Bok finds within himself is the freedom to accept his religion. In one of his dreams he dreams that his father-in-law, the only father that he has really known, has died. When he wakes, Bok says to himself, "Live Shmuel, live...let me die for you" (287 ). Bok experiences a kind of panic after awakening from this dream. He cannot fathom that he will not see this man again, even though he knows that their ever meeting again is nearly impossible. Bok realizes through this dream his true feelings towards the old man whom he called "father."
Furthermore, Bok knows that through his death for a crime he did not commit, he can save many of his Jewish brothers from death in the riots which would ensue if he were released. Therefore, Bok's saying "let me die for you" is directed not just to his father-in-law, but to all those who, had they been in the wrong place at the wrong time as he was, could just as easily have been accused of this same crime.
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Bibikov, the Investigating Magistrate, is one of Bok's only friends in the novel. After Bibikov's death, Bok hallucinates a conversation with his old friend. In this hallucination Bibikov tells Bok that "the purpose of freedom is to create it for others" ( 336 ). This event again illustrates that Bok's hallucinations are important to his discovering an inner freedom. Bok holds this statement especially dear because of the fact that it comes, although in a dream, from someone he trusted and believed in. Bok now realizes that his freedom is not the important issue. It is the freedom of those who will come after him that really matters. Realizing that his freedom is not important strangely gives Bok a greater sense of freedom. He now knows what the purpose of his life must be: Bok must be a martyr for his people, the very people that he had tried to abandon.
Bok's dream sequences and hallucinations are a key part of The Fixer. They allow Bok and the reader to see that it is possible to find freedom within oneself. Proportionally, Bok's dreams and hallucinations take up a large part of the novel because of his lengthy stay in prison. They are also of great significance to the novel as a whole. The Fixer is a novel which searches for the meaning of freedom and how one can achieve it under the direst of circumstances. Bok finds his freedom because of revelations which he has because of his dreams.