Skip over navigation

The Assistant

Bernard Malamud

Context

Table of Contents

Plot Overview

Bernard Malamud was born was born on April 28, 1913 in Brooklyn, New York. His parents Max and Bertha Fidelman Malamud had immigrated to Brooklyn from Russia and met in the States. They owned a grocery store in Brooklyn, which accounts for the primary role of a grocery store in The Assistant and other Malamud stories. Malamud graduated from Eramus Hall High School in 1932. He went on to graduate from City College of New York with a B.A. in 1936. Six years later he earned a Master's Degree in English literature from Columbia University. Malamud began writing stories after graduating from Columbia. He took a job with the Bureau of the Census in Washington, D.C. in 1940, but left to become an evening instructor in English at Eramus High School. In 1949, he joined the faculty of Oregon State University where he remained until 1961 when he began working at Bennington College. He married Ana de Chiara in 1945 and had two children, Paul and Janne.

Malamud's first novel, The Natural, was published in 1952 and many critics see it as a necessary reference text for Malamud's later work. In the novel, which was later popularized in a movie staring Robert Redford, Malamud uses a realistic, yet folkloristic technique to explore the idea of the American dream, as seen with through the career of a baseball player. By mixing allegory and realism, Malamud explores the motifs of character development, the American dream, and the transcendence of the self. Most of these motifs reappear in Malamud's second novel, The Assistant which was published in 1957.

Malamud uses the The Assistant to address some of the motifs from The Natural, but sets the novel in an immigrant setting with strong Jewish main characters. The novel manages to evoke the tradition of Yiddish folklore while maintaining Malamud's training in classic literature and philosophy. The main character of the novel, Morris Bober, for example can be interpreted from both traditions. Some critics have pointed to Morris Bober being a version of the schemiel, a traditional archetype from Yiddish folklore who acts as an ironic hero, using light humor and irony to soften an otherwise harsh world. At the same time other critics have suggested Morris Bober as the embodiment of the existential "I-THOU" philosophy described by Bober's close namesake, Martin Buber. Both of these interpretations seem fitting and they demonstrate that Malamud's novel reflects his ethnic familial background, while also maintaining the intellectual tradition in which he was trained. Malamud always objected to being called a "Jewish writer," because he has found the term too limiting. Malamud's main premise as a writer, as he explains, was "to keep civilization from destroying itself". As such, he worked for humanism—and against nihilism".

Malamud's other publications include The Magic Barrel, a collection of short stories, in 1952; A New Life in 1961; The Fixer in 1966; Pictures of Fidelman, a collection of short stories, in 1969; The Tenants in 1971, Dubin's Lives in 1979, and God's Grace in 1982. Malamud won the National Book Award twice for the The Magic Barrel and The Fixers in 1959 and 1967. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for The Fixers, as well. He died on March 18, 1986 in New York City.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us