Karen FiorenzaDr. Pranab KumarEnglish 101January 29, 2018A Man Versus Himself First published in 1954, “The Magic Barrel” is one of Bernard Malamud’s most frequent discussed works of short fiction.
The main character, Leo Finkle, is a Jewish rabbinical student who hires a matchmaker named Pinye Salzman to help him find a wife, as it’d be easier for him to win a congregation if he is married. The source of conflict in this story is internal, whether Leo choose to love and be loved or not to love and be loved; regardless his relationship with God and woman. It is resolved by Leo’s decision to love and be loved by God and a woman whom called Stella. In “The Magic Barrel,” Malamud uses symbolism and allegory to support the growth of the character of Leo, evolving from a doubtful man into a man that is confident with his decisions; in hope to redeem himself with God by redeeming Stella.Throughout the story, the term “the magic barrel” is often repeated. After all, the story itself is titled after it.
“The magic barrel” is none other than a collated files of eligible bachelorettes. The file consisted six photographs. The number six symbolizes biblical number of man’s imperfection. This signify Salzman’s flaw, he promise far more than he deliver. “You wouldn’t believe me how much cards I got in my office,” Salzman replied.
“The drawers are already filled to the top, so I keep them in the barrel” (255). As they both went through the cards, it’s apparent that none of the women appeal to Leo. They stand for feminine perfection, which is certainly not for an ordinary rabbinical student such Leo. The number six also symbolizes Leo Flaws, self-doubt, which further cause his internal conflict. He is unsure if he’d able to love them and be loved by these women. He later on, after his conversation with potential bride Lily Hirschorn, discover that he doesn’t love God, resulting in even more bigger self-doubt. “I am not a talented religious person,” and in seeking words to go on, found himself possessed by shame and fear. “I think that I came to God not because I loved him, but because I did not” (261).
As a rabbinical student, Finkle feels that he should love God but realizes he doesn’t love either God or others because he doesn’t feel loved. At this point, he doubt whether he has the ability to love and be loved, regardless God nor woman. Malamud uses symbolism to show the characters weaknesses that eventually lead to the central conflict, yet simultaneously show how strong the characters are. By acknowledging the cause of his self-doubt, Leo is able to make his choice, and he chose to love and be loved. He redeemed his weaknesses by offering his love and let himself to be offered with love. The magic barrel in this story isn’t exactly as what Salzman told Finkle Later in the story we learned that the thing called the magic barrel in literal doesn’t exist, rather just a figment of Salzman’s imagination. “But there was no sign of Salzman or his magic barrel, probably also a figment of the imagination” (265). Malamud symbolize “the magic barrel” as a matter of fate.
In this story, Leo’s fate in love to be exact. Barrel is an anti-filing cabinet. Hence, barrels in general are usually a mixed-up places. So what you pull out of it is a matter of fate. His “fate” happens to be with Salzman’s daughter, Stella, whom he disowned and described as wayward.
In this story, Stella symbolizes hope, redemption, and love. In other words, possibilities. “Hope” as she gives hope for Leo to love and be loved, to be understand. “Only such a one could understand him and help him seek whatever he was seeking. She might, perhaps, love him” (264).
She is different, she stands out the most in the eyes of Leo Finkle. She is not perfect in a way of living, as describe by Leo, “Feature for feature, even some of the ladies of the photographs could do better; but she leaped forth to his heart – had lived, or wanted to – more than just wanted, perhaps regretted how she had lived – had somehow deeply suffered” (264). To Leo, Stella give him hope for possibilities in love and redemption. Leo hope to redeem himself with God by redeeming her. “convert her to goodness, himself to God,” (266).
He found a way to love God by proving that he can love Stella. Pinye Salzman is an allegorical figure in the story “The Magic Barrel.” He indirectly participates in Leo’s realization of acknowledgement of the central conflict that will lead into Leo’s further action.
Salzman also play a huge role on the resolution of the conflict. Leo realizes he doesn’t love God and doubting his future as a rabbi after talking to Lily Hirschon, whom he met through Salzman. Stella being the daughter of Saltzman isn’t just fate and a coincidence.
It is likely to be set up by Salzman himself. The photographs Salzman subsequently brings have a trap, the matchmaker has smuggled in a photograph of his daughter in an envelope full of same-looking women, which automatically made his daughter to stand out. Salzman knew that the lonely, destitute bachelor such Leo will be intrigued, especially after being set up to fail on a few dates beforehand. Despite the cleverly orchestrated set-up by Salzman, the readers still percieve this as “fate.” Just not in the most magical, fairy tale way. Salzman allegory’s will benefit both parties, as Finkle confidently knows what he wants; to love Stella and God and be loved by them, and Salzman from the redemption of having a rabbi marry his wayward daughter.
“The Magic Barrel” portrays the human nature on our ability to change and make decision. Malamud successfully transform Leo from a doubtful, unloving man into a faithful, loving man that is confident about his future as a rabbi and a lover. By the end of the story, Leo is able to see and decide matters way beyond than his capability before. He will love others even when he doesn’t feel loved. Thus he understand, to have hope and faith continuing on even in times of darkness.Works CitedMalamud, Bernard. “The Magic Barrel.” Elements of Literature: Essay, Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Film.
Edited by Robert Scholes et al. Oxford UP, 1991. pp.