Point of View
Point of view is a term that describes who tells a story, or through whose eyes we see the events of a narrative. The point of view in Malamud’s “The Magic Barrel” is third person limited. In the third person limited point of view, the narrator is not a character in the story, but someone outside of it who refers to the characters as “he,” “she,” and “they.” This outside narrator, however, is not omniscient, but is limited to the perceptions of one of the characters in the story. The narrator of the story views the events of the story through the eyes of Leo Finkle even though it is not Leo telling the story.
Symbolism is a literary device that uses an action, a person, a thing, or an image to stand for something else. In Malamud’s ”The Magic Barrel” the coming of spring plays an important symbolic role. The story begins in February, “when winter was on its last legs,” and ends “one spring night” as Leo approaches Stella Salzman under a street lamp. The story’s progression from winter to spring is an effective symbol for the emotional rebirth that Leo undergoes as he struggles to grow as a human being.
Idiom may be defined as a specialized vocabulary used by a particular group, or a manner of expression peculiar to a given people. In other words, different groups of people speak in different ways. While the narrator and most of the characters in “The Magic Barrel” speak standard English, Pinye Salzman, the matchmaker, speaks Yiddish. Written in Hebrew characters and based on the grammar of medieval German, Yiddish was the common language of many European Jewish communities. A Russian Jew at the turn of the century (Malamud’s father, for example) might read the Torah in Hebrew, speak to his gentile neighbors in Russian, and conduct the affairs of his business and household in Yiddish.
Since World War II, Yiddish has become less prevalent in Europe and in the immigrant Jewish communities of North America. In another generation, it may totally die out. Many of Malamud’s characters, however, still use the idiom. When Salzman asks Leo, “A glass tea you got, rabbi?”; when he exclaims, “what can I say to somebody that he is not interested in school teachers?”; and when he laments, ”This is my baby, my Stella, she should burn in hell,” the reader hears an idiomatic version of English seasoned with the cadences of Yiddish speech.
Ira Mark Milne (Editor), Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 8, Bernard Malamud, Published by Thomson Gale, 2000.