The Magic Barrel

646 Words3 Pages
Bernard Malamud THE MAGIC BARREL In this story Malamud has gone back to the world of folk tales and fairy tales. His opening words, Not long ago, strike the same note as the fairy tale s once upon a time. The barrel of the title is no ordinary barrel but a magic barrel. Nor is its owner, Pinye Salzman, an ordinary marriage broker. He seems to be one of those legendary figures from a world of enchantment. He appears with miraculous speed and disappears as if on the wings of the wind. His office is in the air. He is perhaps a cloven-hoofed Pan, piping nuptial ditties. . . . Like so many sorcerers in folk tales, he is at once comic and slightly ominous. Salzman s client, Leo Finkle, embarks on a quest that is also hallowed in folklore. Traditionally the young hero is seeking a bride and must endure an ordeal in order to win her. As in the famous judgment of Paris, Leo must choose among three women. His experience has many folk elements: loaves of bread go flying like ducks high over his head ; the appearance of snow he attributes to Salzman; at the conclusion violins and lit candles revolved in the sky. Salzman is a commercial cupid, a figure out of Jewish folklore, and his Yiddishized English and his descriptions of his candidates are hilarious tours de force. The comedy, however, is double-edged, for the scholarly and innocent student is, in his walk along Riverside Drive with Lily Hirschorn, made suddenly aware of his incapacity for love. I am not, he says gravely, a talented religious person. . . . I think . . . that I came to God not because I loved Him, but because I did not. The omniscient narrator comments that Leo Finkle did not love God so well as he might, because he had not loved man. Initially Leo wished to marry for practical purposes, but now he says, I want to be in love with the one I marry. Leo falls in love with a picture, another familiar motif
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