Document Type


Date of Award



Malamud, Bernard, Criticism and interpretation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


English, General Literature, and Rhetoric

First Advisor

Sheldon N. Grebstein

Second Advisor

Vincent Freimarck

Third Advisor

Melvin Seiden


When Ludovico, the insightful pimp of Pictures of Fidelman, advises Fidelman that the “basis of morality is recognizing one another’s needs and cooperating,” he is expressing in stirring understatement a concept that is at the heart of Malamud’s work. Malamud presents us with a world of dismal fact and moral possibility, and whatever is possible hinges on the necessary link between people. Characters may appear in states of isolation but this isolation is always challenged. Men may exist in various sorts of prisons—stifling stores or decaying rooms or self-inflicted prisons of the mind—but there will be an intrusion, at least in Malamud’s world, and this intrusion comes to be a representation of hope or failure in life, or frigid reality.

Ludovico’s words have great meaning, but what is easy to express is not so easy to achieve. Malamud’s world is one of continual struggle. Moral struggle is constantly reflected in physical struggle in an intensely physical Malamudian world. There is no way to evade the harshness of life. “It's a hard life” is Malamud’s pervasive reminder; “life is hard.” Morality is linked to the physical because it is out of the literal physical hardship, struggle, suffering, even defeat, that an understanding of man’s relation to others evolves. To be truly “human” is to recognize the vulnerability of others, a vulnerability we all share, and to be moved by it. Malamud‘s characters contend with severe limitations, are oppressed by forces beyond their control. But the choice to do good, to respond to the needs of another, becomes an act of freedom and self-redemption. Connection, then, embodies a spiritual potential, and it is played out in a physical world that makes its own demands.