‘Idiots First’ by Bernard Malamud

Malamud, Bernard 1961

Idiots First by Bernard Malamud, 1961

The magic trick:

Making a social criticism more timeless by attaching it to a short story instead of an essay or work of political commentary

If you are frustrated with the society in which you find yourself, what do you do? Riot in the streets? Write a strongly worded letter to your local newspaper editor? How about some short fiction instead? It’s far more effective.

Mr. Malamud evidently had some things to say about his Jewish community. He could’ve written an essay and I’m sure it would’ve been very well-done, made a lot of people think in 1961. But instead he wrote this story, and here I am, completely and totally divorced from the times, a half century later, considering his point of view, affected by the emotional weight of the ideas he presents. And that’s quite a trick on Malamud’s part.

The selection:

“Where is open the door there we go in the house,” the sick

man said. “If you will kindly give me thirty-five dollars, God will bless you. What is thirty-five dollars to Mr. Fishbein? Nothing. To me, for my boy, is everything.”

Fishbein drew himself up to his tallest height.

“Private contributions I don’t make—only to institutions. This is my fixed policy.”

Mendel sank to his creaking knees on the rug.
“Please, Mr. Fishbein, if not thirty-five, give maybe twenty.” “Levinson!” Fishbein angrily called.
The servant with the long sideburns appeared at the top of

the stairs.
“Show this party where is the door—unless he wishes to

partake food before leaving the premises.”
“For what I got chicken won’t cure it,” Mendel said.
“This way if you please,” said Levinson, descending.


What do you think about this story? As always, join the conversation in the comments section below, on SSMT Facebook or on Twitter @ShortStoryMT.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s