1) What do you think caused Stella’s father to regard her as dead?
Stella Salzman has been disowned by her father, Pinye Salzman for committing severe disobedience due to their poverty. Stella apparently went opposite ways with her family due to their inability to have a life of comfort and extravagance due to their lack of material things. Her father having labeled her as a wild animal that is shameless indicates of her possible immoral acts that are known only to them. Her existence as a daughter has been irrelevant due to her inappropriate acts and she is considered not part of the family anymore. Due to this she is regarded as dead.
2) Finkle confesses to Lily `… I came to God not because I loved Him, but because I did not. ` How would you explain this paradox, or seeming contradiction?
Leo Finkle is a person who is lost and is trying to find his way to the truth about love and himself. He immersed himself in studies for years and in the process, subjected himself to isolation. In the process, he fell deeper into a trap of loneliness and be wilderness. His passion has been replaced by blindness to attain his motives. His purpose to become a rabbi is to study God and in the process, understand him and be able to have a better life. This statement seemed to show that he is insensitive and self centered, but a deeper look shows the opposite and contrast of what he wants to project. In truth, he wants to be closer to God to experience love for him and others. His humanity persists and he is able to express his need to experience acceptance and love despite being secluded all his life.
3) Why do you think Finkle pictures Stella as his own redemption? What does he want to be redeemed from?
Finkle was looking for something in his life that would lead him to believe the existence of something greater is bound for him. He built his intellect by studying to be a rabbi to have a better understanding of the things around him as he believes that he can have the ability to comprehend his state of loneliness and be able to achieve happiness. When he saw Stella he finally faces the truth that he is unloved by anyone since he himself does not give love. And he sees the beauty within Stella that deserves to be loved. In this way, they become complementary to each other and his redemption is achieved. He is finally able to give love to someone because of admiration, attraction and concern.
4) Summarize what you think Finkle has learned about love and about himself by the end of the story. Has he changed in an important way?
Finkle, in his long years of study, was never able to comprehend the feeling of love due to isolation and social inactivity. But as he saw Stella, pure passion and willingness has been ignited in him that he persists to meet and be with her despite of the negative comments he hears about her. He learns that love is not subjective and is not limited by criteria and standards. He expresses true love since he looks past the bad qualities and accepts her for the good that she shows as a whole. In this way, she becomes an agent of change for him as he is now free from loneliness and despair. He became a person capable of sacrifice and goodness and finds a different truth that he never even imagined.
5) What do you think of the scene with Finkle and Stella near the end of the story? Do you think Salzman arranged a marriage for Finkle after all?
It is possible that Salzman deceived Finkle and set him to believe that he disowned his daughter to implore kindness and mercifulness from the good side of the student Rabbi. The scene at the end of the story where Stella appears to be someone that is a prostitute as shown in her stance and gesture, is seen by Finkle as someone who is innocent and desperate. There is a probability that Salzman used the vulnerability and loneliness of Finkle to trick him to be with this lady, since he is immature with regards to being in a relationship. Evidence of Salzman’s dishonesty is present and known which supports the fact that Stella might have been set up.
6) Does Malamud end the story in a positive or a negative note? How would you explain the last sentence of the story: `Around the corner, Salzman, leaning against a wall, chanted prayers for the dead`?
The ending of the story shows a positive note due to the fact that Finkle was able to find redemption and change for the better. Everyone including Finkle, Stella and Salzman is able to have a new path and realization in their lives. Finkle, being impersonal and lonely due to his circumstances, has been renewed as he has found an object of affection. He learns that in order to be loved, one must first love. Stella has become someone better from a person that is disowned she becomes an agent of renewal and reform. Slazman’s actions on the last scene, where he chants a prayer shows his love for his daughter and is able to change his role as a father. He knows the goodness of Finkle and has managed to give his daughter a chance to be with a man that is better than him in many ways. His prayers are a sign of good faith in her and God’s will.
7) Explain the story’s title.
The magic barrel shows life and love in a cycle where in it revolves around people and the good things happening in life. Salzman although appearing to be deceptive have shown elements of supernatural abilities at some point of the story. But the greatest act of magic that transcends the insensitive and hopeless condition of Finkle is the chance connection that appeared between him and Stella. He was able to let him know her existence, and in the process, revive hi stagnant life.
8) What do you think will happen to Leo and Stella once they learn more about each other? Will they marry? Will they drift apart?
The situation of Leo and Stella is a very difficult yet refreshing experience foe the both of them. Reality of life is somewhat devastating when it sets in and the magic between two persons deteriorates. The strength of the relationship of Leo and Stella lies in the role they possess to each other. Both of them served as agents of change giving each other a new outlook in life, especially to Leo who has found a new way of living and has moved pass from isolation and loneliness. There is a good chance that they will marry due to the fact that the reliance of Leo on her would be strong enough to sustain their relationship. Truth may be ugly but it could be overcome by true love.
Leo has been searching for love all his life. His redemption is her and it is the proof of the value of their relationship. She has shown him the way of living a life of giving and feeling good things about life with others. In the process, he wishes to express his love by converting her. Their relationship is complementary and their existence is now intertwined with each other.
Davis, P. (2007). Bernard Malamud: A Writer’s Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.