Bernard Malamud, was the oldest son of an immigrant grocer. His parents, Max and Bertha, were Russian-Jewish immigrants and would frequently work late, and Bernard would spend many hours in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn absorbing the atmosphere of the area. Times were different then and he was allowed to stay out late as a child, and "wander in the neighbor hood." He would skate on the streets, go sledding with friends, climb trees and play games late into the evening. His first trip to Coney Island allowed him to see the ocean, and he fell in love with its movements (Biography Resource Center, 2004).
Malamud also enjoyed literature. He attended Erasmus Hall High School where he began to write. He made good grades and his stories and drawings began to be printed in the high school magazine.
He graduated from high school in 1932, and enrolled in the College of the City of New York. He eventually earned his degree in 1936.
Later, he earned his Master's degree in literature in 1942.
Malamud's writings are very interesting and contain old world flair (Biography Resource Center, 2004). Kramer (2004) writes, "Most of Malamud's fiction describes in a humorous but sympathetic way the misfortunes of city dwellers, particularly Jews." His works contain many characters that have problems, frequent misunderstandings, and misplaced triumphs, rise into the realm of fantasy and sometimes include a lesson to be learned. Malamud wrote of about what he knew such as the poor simple people and about how he grew up during the Depression. His characters are all people of trade, and include butchers, bakers, egg peddlers, candle makers and tailors who work with the sweat of the brow, through tears and rage as they compete to beating back whatever it is that threatens to take away their livelihood.
This tone is evident in Malamud's first novel titled, The Natural. It was published in 1952. While most of his writings give way to his fine eye for natural detail developed through his travel and real life experiences, The Natural is a story where realistic texture yields to symbolic imagery. Although Malamud has written symbolic novels throughout his career, nowhere is this so obvious as in his first novel, this story is based on an American way of life, and includes the game of baseball. However, Malamud includes a touch of an "underlying fealty to myths of antique Europe, from the Grail quest of Percival back to the earliest known scenarios of vegetation kings and human sacrifice" where he also "superimposes the myth of the Wasteland upon the history of baseball (Biography Resource Center, 2004).
In the book, "a composite of the classic lore of baseball" takes place (Biography Resource Center, 2004). In the story, a baseball player by the name of Roy Hobbs desires to be the best in the game. Malamud creative method of personalizing his characters is evident in The Natural.
Roy Hobbs name means the "King (Roi in French) who is about to restore the kingdom, but his last name suggests the country bumpkin (often called Hob in Renaissance drama)" (Biography Resource Center, 2004). He appears to be out of place in the stylish world of the city. Malamud's creation of Roy is much like that of Percival who was also a country boy who came to the city to make good.
Roy's goal is to break all records for pitching and hitting. Hobbs has a natural talent and is an unbelievable player, however, his desire to achieve the American dream becomes his downfall. Although he possesses great natural talent, the American dream of becoming a hero and a superstar ultimately leads to Roy's undoing. He becomes obsessed with being the best, and Field (2002) states, "he abandons the people who mean most to him as he furthers his own career." Malamud had stated in interviews that Hobbs was created to become an American hero, and that he saw "baseball as a metaphor for American society: when heroes are created, often the real people behind the myth are destroyed. Critical discussion of the book centered around Malamud's presentation of Hobbs as a mythic figure, similar to characters in Arthurian legends" Biography Resource Center, 2004).
Malamud is able to create a "hero" out of Hobbs by creating a character who "never gives up." His desire to achieve what he wants makes his devotion to the game commendable and he continues to work hard to become the best in the game. Even when Hobbs encounters a gunshot wound, he does not allow it to ruin his dream or get in the way of his career path. Malamud includes this obstacle as a "hero's test" in order to allow Hobbs worthy of becoming the best. Hobbs works hard at recovery and gains his strength in order to play again. His team players admire Roy's determination, and even when he strikes out, he knows he is still a winner. The fact that he was able to play, hit, field, and pitch again was the result of his courage and determination to again be the best player he could possibly become (Helterman, 1985). "His blend of fact and fantasy created a North American homegrown magic realism that equally obtains in ballpark and island and tenement. There is an insistent linkage of morality and art" (Biography Resource Center, 2004).
More blends are found throughout his work to include many examples of irony. One example is the reference made to Hobb's bat named Wonderboy. Hobb's bat takes the place of a lance as he plays for his team, the Knights. Here the story is associated with the medieval time of Knights and their legends. The story reeks of comedy such as the manager and his love of eating, and also his love of Memo Paris.
His style is an example of both the naturalness of fiction and our awareness of its artificiality. Malamud writes about the familiar and adds color to the descriptive details that allows the reader to understand the flavor of the time. Many motifs are utilized with the story such as when Roy feels he is not "free like a bird" or even feels "caged" (Malamud, 1952). Schmidtberger, (1998) calls Malamud a "marvelous storyteller of the first rank" and states, "No man understands a deep book until he has seen and lived at least part of its contents." Malamud wrote about what he knew.
His ordinary description of people included an involvement in many impossible situations. Malamud began as a dialect writer -- one of the first to explain to the affluent, assimilated children and grandchildren of the second great wave of Jewish migration what they had left, or failed to leave, behind in the streets of Europe and New York.
Malamud's lifelong friend, editor, and publisher, Giroux, "put together this evident labor of love, quotes Flannery O'Connor" (Boaz, 1997). O'Connor states, "I have discovered a short-story writer who is better than any of them, including myself." Boaz writes, "Many of these stories treat the dead-end lot of working-class Jews." Publishers Weekly (1997) wrote, "Malamud gave us what may be literature's first convenience stores; and, in his prose and dialogue, he captured with loving grace the dying rhythms and flourishes natural to Yiddish. In later stories, he came into his true subject, the cult of art under the pressures of late modernism: some of his best." Malamud had an incredible talent for capturing the lyrical soul of everyday Jewish life and focused mainly on the poor aspects of the people that he wrote about. His stories portrayed remarkable stories created from a memorable childhood and contained long-term contributions in several cultural fields that crossed the line from mythical to realistic.
Malamud developed a heart condition in his later years that eventually resulted in his death. In many of his works, he focused on how to portray life and all its completeness. This style was obvious even in his final works. At his death he left behind the torso of and elaborate notes for a novel he had dubbed "The People." Again, this work was built around a Jewish character that becomes the protector of a tribe of Indians on the wane. It was published in 1989 as The People and Uncollected Stories. Bernard Malamud was one of the greats, a storyteller of struggling Jewish lives held in harsh surroundings by the writer's anonymous stare. He intertwined his characters with the familiar while also weaving lore into his works. Malamud's was a "complete master of the short story (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1997). Rothstien (1986) wrote upon Malamud's death, "Mr. Malamud's work showed a regard for Jewish tradition and the plight of ordinary men, and was imbued with the theme of moral wisdom gained through suffering. His novelist features will not be seen again anytime soon."
Rothstien also explained the simple style of Malamud's writing to be simplistic and intriguing. "Mr. Malamud was a firm believer that a story should tell a story (Rothstien, 1986). Malamud…