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Effect of the Schlemiel in The Fixer

Effect of the Schlemiel in The Fixer

Throughout literature, many Jewish authors have attempted to capture the innocence and heroism of the Jew through the “schlemiel.” In, The Fixer, Bernard Malamud has created a character who has completely embraced the idea of the schlemiel. The schlemiel, as defined by Ruth Wisse in The Schlemiel as A Modern Hero, is a character who stands for a whole race of people (Wisse x). Yakov Bok the protagonist of The Fixer represents all aspects of the Jew: the pain and the foolishness experienced by the Jew felt rolled into one.

The schlemiel also fully embraces the concept of Yiddish humor, a type known not for its comic aspect but for its harshness. Yiddish humor is meant merely to bring out the unfair and foolish treatment of the Jews throughout time (Wisse x). An example of Yiddish humor in The Fixer comes when Bok is arrested for the crime:

he had begged the colonel to let him walk on the sidewalk to lessen his embarrassment, but was forced into the wet centre of the street, and people ontheir way to work had stopped …

The Fantasy World of The Fixer

The Fantasy World of The Fixer

In Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer, almost all of Yakov Bok’s time is spent in prison. The Fixer is an examination of freedom and its compliment, commitment (Helterman 67 ). Though Bok has no physical freedom, the longer that he is imprisoned, the more true freedom he obtains. Bok is able to attain this freedom through his dreams and hallucinations. These sequences are important because they prevent the story from becoming static, but more important, they illustrate that true freedom lies within one’s self.

Yakov Bok is tortured in the government’s attempt to obtain his confession to the ritual murder of Zhenia Golov. He is poisoned, strip searched, chained, and nearly frozen to death:

The fixer was chained to the wall all day,and at night he lay on the bedplank, his legs locked in the stocks…the leg holes were tight and chafed his flesh if he tried to turn a little…the straw mattress had been removed from his cell…now in chains, he thought the searches of his body might end but they increased to six a day, three in the morning and three in the afternoon.( 236 )

These tortures leave Bok with no conscious energy to focus against his captors. Thus, it is only through Bok’s dreams and hallucinations that he can escape and deal with his imprisonment.

One of the most important freedoms which Bok finds within himself is the freedom to accept his religion. In one of his dreams he dreams that his father-in-law, the only father that he has really known, has died. When he wakes, Bok says to himself, “Live Shmuel, live…let me die for you” (287 ). Bok experiences a kind of panic after awakening from this dream. He cannot fathom that he will not see this man again, even though he knows that their ever meeting again is nearly impossible. Bok realizes through this dream his true feelings towards the old man whom he called “father.”

Furthermore, Bok knows that through his death for a crime he did not commit, he can save many of his Jewish brothers from death in the riots which would ensue if he were released. Therefore, Bok’s saying “let me die for you” is directed not just to his father-in-law, but to all those who, had they been in the wrong place at the wrong time as he was, could just as easily have been accused of this same crime.

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