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13 Malamud and Ozick: Kindred "Neshamas" EVELYN AVERY Separated by gender, religious practice, and lifestyle, Bernard Malamud and Cynthia Ozick would appear to share little but their accidents of birth and choice of craft as twentieth-century Jewish American authors. Indeed, they even define themselves differently, since Malamud describes himself as a "writer who happens to be Jewish," while Ozick sees herself as a writer in the Jewish tradition. Despite such differences, however, they share a deep respect, affection, and concern for each other's lives and writings as evident in their letters and interviews.1 Moreover, their fiction reflects shared values, a common approach to their art, in spite of contrasts in style and subject matter. Linked by Yiddishkeit, compassion for the underdog, outrage against injustice, and commitment to truth, their fiction invites comparison. Works such as Malamud's "Silver Crown," The Tenants, and The Fixer, and Ozick's "Pagan Rabbi," "A Mercenary," "Usurpation," and The Shawl illuminate and enrich each other, verifying that their authors are kindred spirits. Ozick's respect for Malamud's writing is apparent in "Usurpation," where she admits her envy of Malamud's "Silver Crown," which turns on magic, faith, and the possibility of redemption. The presence of Rabbi Lifschitz, a questionable "miracle" worker, and his illusory silver crown ironically underscore the importance of faith and love, without which the miraculous is impossible. Since the crux of the story is an arid relationship between Albert Gans and his dying father, only love—an act of faith — can transform the son and save the father. Instead, the guilt-ridden but shallow Albert seeks a quick, cheap fix from Rabbi Lifschitz, who will, for a fee, fashion a silver crown to heal the elder Gans. Although the rabbi's intentions and the crown's existence are suspect, both Malamud and Ozick recognize their potential to inspire real magic, to alter Albert's feelings for his father and transmute hatred into forgiveness and 179 180 EVELYN AVERY even love. But in "The Silver Crown" there is no magic; the rabbi and the crown fail, for Albert's heart is bitter, his neshoma (soul) merciless, as he curses his father: "He hates me, the son of a bitch, I hope he croaks" (Malamud, 328). An hour later, Gans "shut[s] his eyes and expire[s]." While Cecilia Farr argues that "trust in magic destroys faith and the father" (Farr, 90), the reverse is true in "The Silver Crown," where magic can only work if love, which is essential to faith, exists. Repeatedly the rabbi asks Albert whether he loves his father and "believes in God" (Malamud, 310). Repeatedly Albert is evasive, describing their relationship as difficult. Although the rabbi hardly looks or sounds prophetlike, his first name, Jonas (Greek for Jonah), suggests he has suffered and accepted God. While the rabbi may be a materialistic con man, he is capable of sacrifice and love, and is qualified to instruct Albert. Thus the Gans' sterile relationship is counterpointed by the rabbi's bond with his retarded daughter . Described as a "bulky, stupefying, fifteen year old," with an "unfocused face" and garbled words, Rifkele lives with her father, whose magic she hawks in the street (308). In Albert Gans' eyes, she is disgusting, a freak who makes him question the rabbi's ethics and judgment, but ironically Rifkele uplifts Rabbi Lifschitz, who views his daughter as God's perfect creation. In the end, rabbi and daughter "rush into each other's arms" when they witness Albert's blasphemy against his father. "Murderer," cries the rabbi as he and Rifkele embrace and Albert flees with a "massive, spike-laden headache" instead of the silver crown (328). Without love, Malamud and Ozick both recognize, death ensues; with love, however, life has meaning. Although Ozick playfully considers brighter alternative endings with the father recovering, Albert reforming, or the silver crown materializing, her own stories are as magical and as "logically decisive" as Malamud's (Ozick, "Usurpation," 134). Thus "The Pagan Rabbi" contains many of the elements of "The Silver Crown" —obsessive emotion, absence of love, rejection of God's Law, and dire consequences. While teacher Gans cannot honor his father and seeks answers from a crown, Rabbi Kornfeld betrays his wife and seeks love from a tree, an act of suicide. A dialectic between man's soul and nature's sensuality, "The Pagan Rabbi" is a midrash on the dangers of paganism , the worship of the physical world, of hedonistic sexuality divorced from...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780791484449
Related ISBN
9780791462096
MARC Record
OCLC
62395530
Pages
266
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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