Myth Inside and Out: Malamud's The Natural

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Editors: Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau
Date: 2007
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 3,679 words

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[(essay date winter 1968) In the following essay, Turner compares the mythology of baseball to the pressures of reality in The Natural.]

Critical comment on Bernard Malamud's most recent novel, The Fixer, has been strikingly uniform in its conviction that this work is one toward which all the writer's previous fiction has been pointing. V. S. Pritchett, writing in The New York Review of Books, notes that the "hero as sufferer and martyr is a characteristic Jewish theme, comic and tragic, and a continuing one in Malamud's novels."1 George P. Elliott in The New York Times Book Review begins, "For quite a few years it has been clear that Bernard Malamud would be able to tell his story when he found it."2 And Elliott goes on to guess, ex post facto, what that story might be like, hypothesizing from the basis of Malamud's earlier works. So too with Granville Hicks whose review of The Fixer in Saturday Review makes it clear that this is the kind of novel that Malamud's previous fiction had led us to expect he might write.3

It is interesting then to note that none of the above-mentioned reviews seems able to make much of The Natural (1952) which was Malamud's first novel. Hicks' passing reference to this work is not atypical of the treatment accorded it, not merely on this recent occasion, but in much of the critical comment which has appeared since Malamud emerged as an American writer of some importance:

Although he began his literary career with a novel based on myth, The Natural, and has often introduced elements of fantasy in his short stories, The Fixeris realistic in the most precise sense of that term.4

The position of The Natural as an "although" work in the Malamud canon is indeed strange, especially now that we are in a position to see that the real subject of The Fixer is a continuation and extension of that begun in The Natural.

The key to both works is supplied by the writer himself. Speaking of The Fixer, Malamud notes that the book "has a mythological quality. It has to be treated as a myth, an endless story. ..."5 Specifically, Malamud is speaking here of the endless story of injustice, but more to the point of both the first and latest works is the clash between myths and objective reality. Myths are "endless stories" for Malamud, and the "endless story" of his novels has been the conflict between myths and the outer world. It is this theme that has occupied Malamud from the outset of his novelistic career, and it has been the task of the heroes of his novels to see beyond myths without at the same time losing sight of them.

In The Fixer it is the terrible and agonizing task of Yakov Bok to finally see beyond, outside the myth of Jewishness, of Jewish suffering; his task is to see himself not only as a Jew, sustained in his...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420075237