A Reading Of Malamud's "The Magic Barrel"

2085 words - 8 pages

Bernard Malamud's "The Magic Barrel" is a story about a person's quest for personal and spiritual redemption.Set in the month of February, the story starts by presenting the supposed dilemma of the main character. He is Leon Finkle, a rabbinical student on his sixth year at the Yeshivah University, set to be ordained 4 months hence. An acquaintance has apparently told him that he "might find it easier to win himself a congregation if he were married", but he does not have any "present prospects" for marriage. So he calls in Pinye Salzman, a "marriage broker", who presents to Finkle several cards from his "barrel", each representing a woman he deemed "good for a new rabbi". At first, none of the girls please him - he always finds some fault in them - and he dismisses Salzman. But the matchmaker returns, seemingly intent on doing his job, and eventually convinces Finkle to go on a date with one of the girls, Lily H.It is this rendezvous that first brings about a change in Finkle.Initially, the readers are presented with so many reasons as to why Finkle decides to call a matchmaker. As earlier said, he has "no present prospects for marriage", and he is "pressed for time". In his first conversation with Salzman, he says that he "thought it the better part of trial and error to call in an experienced person". He also implies a certain respect he has for the matchmaking institution by remarking that it was "ancient and honorable", and even "highly approved" by the group of people to whom his identity is attached (being a rabbinical student), the Jewish community. Even his parents, the very roots of his existence and another source of his identity, were supposedly brought together by a matchmaker. After he meets with Salzman for the first time, however, he then admits that he actually "did not, in essence, care for the matchmaking institution" despite the reasons he himself has stated.Later, after his meeting with Lily, he realizes the truth that the reasons he has given before are not true, and that he does not really know his intention for calling Salzman. (This is illustrated beforehand - when the matchmaker questions Finkle as to what suits him, or in who else will he be interested in, he flushes and "could give only a confused answer," proving that he himself does not know what he wants.) What comes after is a shocking awareness, "with an emptiness that seized him with six hands," that his main reason for calling the marriage broker is his incapability of finding a bride himself.It is also after his encounter with Lily that Finkle realizes something about himself for the first time: he was unloved and loveless. After confessing that he chose to become a rabbi not because he loves God but because he does not, he admits to himself that he had never loved anyone apart from his parents. This is clearly seen in the story - he has no real friends. It was only "an acquaintance" who advised him to get married. He admits to Salzman that "but for his...

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