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

14. Becoming Visible

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- James Baldwin
- Saul Bellow
- Gwendolyn Brooks
- Ralph Ellison
- Bernard Malamud
- Paule Marshall
- Arthur Miller
- N. Scott Momaday
- Grace Paley
- Philip Roth
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Bernard Malamud (1914-1986)

Children Studying in a Hebrew School in Colchester, Connecticut
[7855] Jack Delano, Children Studying in a Hebrew School in Colchester, Connecticut (1940), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USF34-042452-D].

Bernard Malamud Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
In Saul Bellow's eulogy to Bernard Malamud, he writes that "a language is a spiritual mansion from which no one can evict us. Malamud in his novels and stories discovered a sort of communicative genius in the impoverished, harsh jargon of immigrant New York. He was a mythmaker, a fabulist, and a writer of exquisite parables. . . . The accent of hard-won and individual emotional truth is always heard in Malamud's words." Along with Bellow, Malamud is one of the most important contributors to the body of Jewish American writing coming out of the 1950s. Like Bellow, he captured the cadences of the speech and manners of the newly immigrated, working-class Jews and used reality and myth to "convey the most intimate details of existence."

Bernard Malamud was born in Brooklyn and graduated from Erasmus High School and the City College of New York. He received his M.A. from Columbia University in 1942 and taught at high schools in New York City as well as at Oregon State University and Bennington College. By 1950 his short stories had started to appear in Partisan Review and Commentary, and his first novel, The Natural (1950), a fable about an injured baseball hero gifted with miraculous powers, added the realm of the mythic to the already popular American pastime. His second novel, The Assistant (1957), tells the story of a young gentile hoodlum and an old Jewish grocer. The Fixer (1966), the story of a Jewish handyman unjustly imprisoned in Czarist Russia for the murder of a Christian boy, won the Pulitzer Prize.

In the 1960s, Malamud tackled a subject central to Jewish experience and literature of the era: Jewish and African American relations. During the 1950s and 1960s, Jewish-black relations became increasingly strained as competition for inner-city housing became even greater than before. As anthropologist Karen Brodkin points out in How Jews Became White Folks and What that Says about Race in America, Jews had just begun to make the transition into being considered "white" during the 1950s and 1960s; one consequence of this transformation was that many Jews tried to distance themselves from other, less "white" ethnic groups, often in racist and unappealing ways. In The Tenant (1960), Malamud plays one minority's experience against another's. Inter-ethnic tensions are also central to Jo Sinclair's path-breaking novel The Changelings (1955) and Saul Bellow's controversial Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970). These novels by Malamud and others provide an important counternarrative to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Malamud's later works include Dubin's Lives (1979) and God's Grace (1982) as well as an important body of short fiction.

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