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Dilemma and Salvation: the Theme of Ethics in Bernard Malamud’s Fiction

Author LiLiLi
Tutor QiaoGuoQiang
School Shanghai International Studies University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Bernard Malamud ethics dilemma salvation The Natural The Fixer The Tenants God’s Grace
CLC I712.074
Type PhD thesis
Year 2013
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Bernard Malamud is regarded as one of the most important American Jewishwriters of the age. His works, with their profound connotation, have attracted theattention of a large number of critics from both abroad and at home. However, so far,most critics focus on “Jewishness”,“the problem of politics, ethnics and survival”,“the art creation”,“the religious issues”, etc. in his novels, while putting less attentionto the ethical issue. Although some critics have discussed the ethical problem, theytend to explore only Jewish ethics, ignoring the complex theme of ethics in his fiction.Among the scholarly books about Malamud’s works, there are fewer which focus onthe theme of ethics. In this dissertation, the present author will explore the theme ofethics in The Natural (1952), The Fixer (1966), The Tenants (1971) and God’s Grace(1982). The author’s purpose is to express the ethical dilemma and the ways tosalvation by examining the ethical connotation and the differences in various novels,and thus to indicate Malamud’s profound spirit of humanism.The author of the dissertation intends to consider the theme ethics in Malamud’sfiction in terms of interpersonal ethics, Jewish ethics, ethnic ethics and ecologicalethics. Firstly, the author focuses on Malamud’s first novel The Natural todemonstrate the dreams and desires for fame and fortune under the values ofindividualism, and the resulting interpersonal ethical dilemma. The author is to pointout love and responsibility is the way to establish harmonious interpersonalrelationship and to be out of dilemma. Secondly, the author explores The Fixer toillustrate the persecution of Jews under the circumstance of anti-Semitism, and thedilemma of the Jews because of the lack of Jewish ethical awareness. The author is topoint out that the way to be out of dilemma and to achieve salvation is through thereturn to the tradition of Jewish ethics and the bearing of responsibility for the Jewishpeople. Thirdly, the author analyzes The Tenants to manifest the contradiction andconflict between two writers of different ethnic groups and the incurring dilemma. The author is to point out that only tolerance and understanding can help realize thecoexistence of different peoples. Fourthly, the author examines Malamud’s last novelGod’s Grace to indicate the construction of ecology in a fictional tropical island afterthermonuclear war and the causes of ecological dilemma in the process. The author isto point out that humans should bear ecological responsibility and follow ecologicalrules so as to guarantee the harmonious development of the ecosystem.From the above analysis, we discover that there has been a common theme ofethics in Malamud’s novels. These novels are intrinsically and closely linked becauseof this consistent thread of ethics. Malamud focuses on different ethical issues innovels published in different ages. His understanding of the ethical problems includesfour aspects: the plight of interpersonal communication in social life and career; thepersecution and suffering of the Jews caused by anti-Semitism; the contradictions andconflicts during the intercourse between different peoples; and the ethically ecologicalcrisis in the process of human civilization. Malamud’s interpretation of the theme ofethics has experienced a progressive process, showing his understanding of therelation between individual and others, between individual and the collective, betweendifferent ethnic groups as well as between human and ecosystem.Malamud reveals his worries about human dilemma in his novels. But hispurpose is not to show the plight in human survival. He is not just to make peoplerealize that there is suffering and oppression in the world and criticize the act ofignoring ethical principles. He puts more emphasis on salvation at the same time. Thatis to say, he does not let his protagonists be ruined by the difficult situation, but toexplore the way to be out of difficulty, restore humanity, and regain regeneration.Therefore, the ethics in Malamud’s novels concerns itself with the changes of variousrelations during the process of dilemma and salvation. It not only shows suffering inthe social life, but also pays more attention to the way of salvation.Malamud believes that writers should concern themselves with morality andliterary works should give people right directions. He deems it necessary to makepeople live a moral and humanitarian life. Even in the plight they should hold on torealize salvation. Malamud’s protagonists try to find a solution to the problem of “how people should live”. They are not perfect, or may be flawed in some aspects,and often run into psychological and emotional trouble. But they are not in the depthof despair. Even if when there is horrible tableau, such as Holocaust, or conflictbetween different ethnic groups, or even mass extinction, he still seems to believe hisprotagonists should hold firm belief and have confidence in the future. Transcendingtime and space, Malamud’s fiction is of universal significance and value.The author of this dissertation is to extend the research area of Malamud’s fiction.Having studied domestic and foreign research work about Malamud’s fiction, theauthor combines the macro method of ethical criticism with micro study of analyzingthe text, making full use of relevant literary and cultural studies, and other scholars’ideas. The author focuses on the analysis of the protagonists’ ethical dilemma,explores the way to be out of crisis to reveal the ethical ideas in the fiction, and theguidance of these ideas to the American and humankind. The analysis of the ethics inMalamud’s fiction provides a new perspective in perceiving Malamud’s works inChina.

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