A Reading of Malamud's "The Magic Barrel"

Essay by sleeptodreamCollege, UndergraduateB+, July 2004

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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...