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Bernard Malamud

Bernard Malamud

Bernard Malamud (1930-1986) was a Jewish-American author known for his many novels, such as The Natural (1952), The Assistant (1957), and The Fixer (1966). He is also the author of short stories. He was incredibly influential in the Jewish-American Literature Movement that began in the 1930s as Malamud's writing primarily focused on the lives of Jewish immigrants.

A Biography of Bernard Malamud

Bernard Malamud was born on the 26th of April 1914 in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants and were poor. The Jewish immigrant experience would frequently appear in his work. Malamud also had a younger brother who had a severe mental illness, and when Malamud's mother died, Malamud took the role of caring for his brother. Malamud attended City College of New York, graduating with a B.A. in 1936. He received his Master's at Columbia University in 1942.

Malamud was exempt from fighting in WWII to take care of his father, but what Malamud had learned about WWII and the Holocaust would later impact his writing. Throughout his lifetime, he held many teaching jobs at various high schools in New York City, Oregon State University, and Bennington College.

Bernard Malamud, Brooklyn, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Malamud is from Brooklyn, New York.

Malamud wrote his first novel in 1952, titled The Natural. He wrote a second novel titled The Assistant in 1957. In 1959, Malamud was awarded a National Book Award for his short story collection The Magic Barrel (1958). Malamud's next novel was partly based on his teaching job at Oregon State University. It is titled A New Life (1961).

His novel The Fixer (1966), about a wrongfully imprisoned Russian Jew, won Malamud the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Malamud's book, Dubin's Lives (1979), took over five years to write.

Malamud's final book is titled God's Grace (1982), which was inspired by what Malamud had learned about the Holocaust and imagined a future Holocaust. Although Malamud finished his last novel in 1982, he continued to write for American Magazines. Malamud died on the 18th of March 1986. He had been working on a piece titled, The Tribe; however, it remains unfinished.

Works by Bernard Malamud

Bernard Malamud wrote many novels and short story collections. His work mainly focused on the lives of Jewish immigrants and modern-day social problems such as rootlessness. Malamud is most well known for his novels The Natural, The Fixer, and The Assistant. He is also most well known for his short story collections The Magic Barrel and Rembrandt's Hat (1974).

The Natural (1952)

In Malamud's 1952 novel, The Natural, Roy Hobbs is a baseball prodigy. A woman shoots him and his career becomes sidetracked. The novel jumps sixteen years into the future, and now Hobbs is trying to make a comeback in baseball. When he begins playing for the fictional team, the New York Knights, he proves to be a natural with his "Wonderboy" Bat. The novel follows themes such as The American Dream, ambition, and the rise from destruction.

Bernard Malamud, Baseball, StudySmarterFig. 2 - The Natural is about a baseball player.

The Natural is based on the shooting of Eddie Waitkus, who played for the Philadelphia Phillies and made a strong comeback. The real story of Waitkus and the fictional story of Hobbs are very different but have a few similarities.

In 1984, The Natural was adapted into a film of the same name and was directed by Barry Levinson. It stars Robert Redford, Glen Close, and Robert Duvall.

The Assistant (1957)

The Assistant is set in Brooklyn, New York, in the early 1950s. It explores first and second-generation immigrants: A Russian Jewish refugee named Morris Bober, who owns a grocery store, and a young Italian American, named Frank Alpine, who becomes the grocer's assistant. Frank falls in love with Bober's daughter causing many conflicts. The novel contains themes such as the pursuit of The American Dream, immigrants' struggles, and the relationship between a father figure and a son. The novel won The National Book Award in 1958 and was adapted into a film of the same name in 1997.

The Fixer (1966)

The Fixer is a fictionalized account of the real 1913 case of Mendel Beilis. Mendel Beilis was a Jewish handyman living in Tsarist Russia. The Fixer follows the story of Yakov Bok, who lives in Tsarist Russia. He moves to Kyiv seeking fortune but becomes a handyman. Bok is wrongfully imprisoned after he is accused of murdering a Christian boy as a ritualistic act. The novel primarily focuses on the life of Bok while he waits for his trial in prison for two years. There he is humiliated and teased and realizes Russia is a broken world that requires repairing. The novel explores antisemitism and themes such as freedom, man versus man, and responsibility. The novel won Malamud both The National Book Award and The Pulitzer Prize. In 1968, the novel was adapted into a film by the same name that received an Oscar nomination.

The Writing Style of Bernard Malamud

Bernard Malamud became an incredibly important figure in the Jewish American Literature Movement that began in the 1930s. He developed a unique writing style with key characteristics that engage the reader. Most notably is his use of the limited third-person point of view.

The limited third-person point of view is when the narrator tells a story from only one character's perspective.

By using the third-person limited point of view, Malamud can keep the reader at a distance and only allow the reader to know what the protagonist knows and feels.

When he had made his speech and retired to the dugout, after a quick unbelieving glance at the mountain of gifts they were unpacking for him, the fans sat back in frozen silence, some quickly crossing their fingers, some spitting over their left shoulders, onto the steps so they wouldn't get anyone wet, almost all hoping he had not jinxed himself forever by saying what he had said," (The Natural, Chapter 5).

This is an example of the limited third-person point of view. First, the narrator will describe the character's actions allowing the reader to first evaluate those actions. Then the narrator will describe the character's feelings, responses, and emotions intimately.

Bernard Malamud, book, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Malamud had a unique writing style.

Another key characteristic of Malamud's writing is his unique sentence structure.

The son had lived through a pogrom when he was a schoolboy, a three-day Cossack raid. On the third morning when the houses were still smoldering and he was led, with a half dozen other children, out of a cellar where they had been hiding he saw a black-bearded Jew with a white sausage stuffed into his mouth, lying in the road on a pile of bloody feathers, a peasant’s pig devouring his arm," (The Fixer, Chapter 1).

Malamud will write long, detailed descriptions of the novel's setting, surroundings, and main events.

He had kept his tools and a few books: Smirnovsky’s Russian Grammar, an elementary biology book, Selections from Spinoza, and a battered atlas at least twenty-five years old," (The Fixer, Chapter 1).

However, Malamud will also write short, direct sentences when anything is revealed about the character. By mixing two sentence types, Malamud creates movement in his writing that is slow then fast. This is highly engaging to readers.

Themes in the Works of Bernard Malamud

Bernard Malamud focused on a few key themes in his work. The two main themes are journeys and suffering. Many of Malamud's characters are on a journey of some sort. Usually, the journey is when a character embarks on a path to a new life or greater achievement. Journeys are never easy in the stories of Malamud and often come with much suffering and pain.

Bernard Malamud, Suffering, StudySmarterFig. 4 - Suffering is a major theme in Malamud's work.

Roy Hobbs is on a journey to become a baseball player in The Natural. He starts his new life by moving to Chicago, but his career faces many challenges, namely when he is shot by a woman, pushing his career to the side. In this way, Malamud is remarking that journeys are not meant to be easy. Suffering and challenges are meant to be faced.

Suffering is tied to the theme of journeys in Malamud's work. As the characters go on their journey, they are met with many sufferings. These sufferings are never straightforward and are intertwined with moments in which the suffering has the potential to be relieved. Just when it seems things are finally about to become better, they suddenly worsen again. However, without suffering, the characters in Malamud's work would never reach success or happiness.

Quotes by Bernard Malamud

Here are some quotes from the writings of Bernard Malamud.

Being born a Jew meant being vulnerable to history, including its worst errors. Accident and history had involved Yakov Bok as he had never dreamed he could be involved," (The Fixer, Chapter 4).

Malamud, who was in his young adulthood when the Holocaust occurred, knew the horrors Jewish people had faced. In his novel The Fixer, he explores the tragedies and suffering Jewish people felt even before WWII in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Yakov Bok is representative of the sufferings Jewish people had faced and will continue to face due to antisemitism. However, keeping in theme with much of Malamud's work, suffering will eventually lead to success.

But I think if a Jew don't suffer for the Law, he will suffer for nothing."

"What do you suffer for, Morris?" Frank said.

"I suffer for you," Morris said calmly," (The Assistant, Chapter 5)

In this excerpt from The Assistant, Malamud relays an important ethical tenant of Morris's Judaism. To sacrifice oneself and suffer for others simply out of love for humanity is essential for Morris. To care for others regardless if they belong to your faith, race, or ethnicity takes the religious aspect of Morris's faith and brings it to a modern, secular level of understanding. In this way, the novel deals with the modern-day.

He coughed, tore his voice clear and blurted, "My goddamn life didn't turn out like I wanted it to," (The Natural, Chapter 7).

Roy Hobbs had dreams of becoming a professional baseball player. His dream was cut short when he was shot. In this quote, the theme of the journey, commonly found in Malamud's work, is apparent. The journey to achieve Hobbs's dreams wasn't straightforward and easy. There were many challenges that Roy wasn't expecting. However, because of these challenges, he can achieve success with the New York Knights.

Bernard Malamud - Key takeaways

  • Bernard Malamud (1930-2008) was a Jewish-American author born in Brooklyn, New York, to Russian Jewish Immigrants.
  • He has written many novels and short story collections, including The Fixer, The Assistant, and The Magic Barrel.
  • Malamud was a part of the Jewish American Literary Movement that began in the 1930s.
  • His writing style utilizes the limited third-person point of view and a combination of long and short sentence structures.
  • His work focuses on themes such as journeys and suffering.

Frequently Asked Questions about Bernard Malamud

Bernard Malamud died from natural causes in 1986. 

Bernard Malamud is important for his contributions to the Jewish American Literary Movement. 

Bernard Malamud was from Brooklyn, New York. 

Bernard Malamud was a Jewish-American author known for his many novels such as The Natural (1952), The Assistant (1957), and The Fixer (1966). 

Malamud is known for many of his novels, including The Natural (1952), The Assistant (1957), and The Fixer (1966) 

Final Bernard Malamud Quiz

Question

When was Bernard Malamud born?

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1930

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Where was Bernard Malamud born?

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Brooklyn, New York

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Where did Malamud's parents immigrate from?

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Russia

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What is the name of Malamud's first novel?

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 The Natural (1952)

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Who was Bernard Malamud?

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Answer

Bernard Malamud (1930-1986) was a Jewish-American author known for his many novels such as The Natural (1952), The Assistant (1957), and The Fixer (1966).

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For which novel did Malamud win a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book award?

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Answer

The Fixer (1961)

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Who is the protagonist in The Natural?

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Roy Hobbs

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What literary movement did Malamud belong to?

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Answer

Jewish American Literary Movement

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What point of view did Malamud often use in his novels?

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 Third-person limited point of view

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What is the  third-person limited point of view?

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when the story is told by a narrator from the perspective of only one character.

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What are the two major themes found in Malamud's work?

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Journeys and suffering

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Why did Malamud believe suffering was important?

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Malamud believed that without suffering, success and happiness cannot be achieved. 

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When did Malamud die?

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1986

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When does Malamud utilize long sentences?

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When writing descriptions of the setting, surrounding, or main event of the novel

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When does Malamud use short, direct sentences?

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When anything is revealed about a character

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Who wrote The Natural

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Bernard Malamud

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When was The Natural published? 

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1952

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What sport does The Natural center around? 

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Baseball.

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Who is "the natural" and the protagonist of the novel? 

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Roy Hobbs

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What team's tryouts is Roy attending at the start of the novel? 

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Chicago Cubs.

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Why doesn't Roy make it to tryouts? 

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He is shot by Harriet Bird

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Why does Harriet Bird shoot Roy? 

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She has an obsession with killing talented athletes.

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What team does Roy play for when he comes back to baseball? 

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New York Knights.

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True or false: Roy is an immediate success and gets a spot on the team right away

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False.

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Which female character is Roy obsessed with?

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Memo Paris

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Why does Roy end things with Iris? 

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She is a grandmother at 33

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Who offers Roy $35,000 to throw the baseball game?

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Judge Banner

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Who releases a news article that will likely ruin Roy's career? 

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Max Mercy.

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What are the main themes in the novel? 

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Ambition vs. fate.

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What is Roy's fatal flaw? 

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He is too easily distracted by his ego and lust 

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Who wrote The Fixer

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Bernard Malamud

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When was The Fixer published? 

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1966

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True or false: The Fixer was based on a true story

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True. 

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Why is The Fixer controversial? 

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The Fixer has come under plagiarism and defamation controversy because much of the content is taken directly from Menahem Mendel Beilis's memoir, and Beilis and his wife are presented poorly in The Fixer.

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Where is The Fixer set?

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Russian-controlled Kiev in the early 1900s. 

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Who is the main character of the novel? 

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Yakov Bok.

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What crime is Yakov accused of committing? 

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Murder.

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Why is Yakov suspected of committing the crime? 

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He's Jewish.

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Who is Bibikov? 

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The magistrate investigating Yakov's case

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Who pays a guard to see Yakov? 

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Shmuel, Yakov's father-in law.

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Why does Babikov want to help Yakov? 

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He believes that society isn't as civilized as it claims to be and everyone needs to do what they can.

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Why does Raisl visit Yakov?

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She has been coerced by the police to get a confession.

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What happens at the end of the novel? 

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Yakov is on his way to the trial. He has an imaginary conversation admonishing the former tsar of Russia, and he accepts his position as a symbol of Jewish resistance and hope. 

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Why is Babikov punished and thrown in solitary confinement? 

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He doesn't fit into the status quo and isn't blindly prejudiced against Jews.

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What are the main themes in The Fixer

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Answer

Pervasive prejudice.

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