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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

14. Becoming Visible

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Activities: Author Activities

Bernard Malamud - Author Questions

Back Back to Bernard Malamud Activities
  1. Comprehension: In what ways does Salzman in "The Magic Barrel" almost seem magical himself? Where does Malamud allude to Salzman's magical qualities? Why might Malamud want to include a sense of "magic" in this tale?

  2. Comprehension: Why doesn't Malamud use a first-person narrator in "The Magic Barrel," as Roth does in "Defender of the Faith" and as Paley does in "A Conversation with My Father"? What are the advantages of an omniscient teller for this particular story?

  3. Comprehension: Malamud was sometimes accused of sentimentalizing the ethnic experience in America. Is "The Magic Barrel" sentimental? What elements of the story complicate any answer to this question?

  4. Context: Like Roth's "Defender of the Faith," Malamud's "The Magic Barrel" gives us a glimpse of a society in transition and of an individual quarreling with the traditional values that support his social identity. Compare the endings of the stories: what remains uncertain for both of the protagonists?

  5. Exploration: Read aloud a sampling of the dialogue in "The Magic Barrel." What is your impression of its cadences, its sound? Are we listening to a conversation in American English? In translated Yiddish? Are we hearing voices in transition, as well as a tale of social values and personal identity? How can you tell?

  6. Exploration: Several times, Malamud reminds readers of the long-standing suffering associated with being Jewish. Where does this suffering come from, historically and culturally, and why does it continue to exist? Why would this sense of cultural suffering be reinforced, especially after World War II?

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