‘Angel Levine’ by Bernard Malamud

Angel Levine by Bernard Malamud, 1955

The magic trick:

Hiding the theme within the conflict

This is a classic from The Magic Barrel collection. It has a very neat setup to demonstrate its theme. Levine shows up early on as the would-be solution to our poor protagonist’s problems. He gets his angel wings if he helps our man. It’s a wonderful life indeed, but our man doesn’t really trust this situation. A black Jew from Harlem named Levine? So while it would appear that the stakes are an angel getting his wings and a tailor getting his life as well as his wife’s health back on track, that’s not really it at all. The stakes are much higher. The angel serves to test the tailor’s basic principles of life, humanity, and faith. And that’s quite a trick on Malamud’s part.

The selection:

“Who are you?” Manischevitz at last asked uneasily.

“If I may, insofar as one is able to, identify myself, I bear the name of Alexander Levine.”

In spite of his troubles Manischevitz felt a smile growing on his lips. “You said Levine?” he politely inquired.

The Negro nodded. “That is exactly right.”

Carrying the jest further, Manischevitz asked, “You are maybe Jewish?”

“All my life I was, willingly.”

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