Analysis of "The Jewbird"

Topics: Judaism, Who is a Jew?, Jews Pages: 3 (1012 words) Published: April 13, 2008
In “Jewbird,” Bernard Malamud skillfully uses three elements—theme, characters, and conflict to show the issues surrounding personal identity and assimilation among American Jews. The dominant themes in this short story are the human capacity to foster hatred towards those who are different in the form of anti-Semitism, and the conflict that exists between Jews who have assimilated into American culture and those who have not relinquished their Jewish identity. Humor and irony can be found throughout the story to define the characters and the conflict that exists between the protagonist Schwartz and the dominant antagonist Harry Cohen. Anti-Semitism, assimilation, and personal identity comprise the story of a talking crow which lands in the home of Harry Cohen a beer-drinking, cursing, assimilated American Jew. Schwartz, as the bird asks to be called, symbolizes the old ways of Jews and their constant flight to find a safe haven away from anti-Semitism. “I’m running. I’m flying but I’m also running. From whom? Asked Edie with interest. Anti-Semeets. Anti-Semites? They all said. That’s from who” (321). The old ways the bird symbolizes are quickly demonstrated to the Cohen family when the bird begins dovening, or praying intensely, “He prayed without Book or tallith, but with passion. Edie bowed her head though not Cohen. And Maurie rocked back and forth with the prayer, looking up with one wide-open eye” (321). Cohen is immediately skeptical, sarcastic, and uncharitable toward the unwelcome visitor. When asked by his wife Edie what he has against the poor bird, Cohen responds, “Poor bird, my ass. He’s foxy bastard. He thinks he’s a Jew” (323). Cohen is clearly disturbed by Schwartz’s Jewishness. As an assimilated Jew, Cohen has distanced himself from everything Jewish and he is repulsed and angered by the reminders that Schwartz brings into his home. Malamud symbolizes the conflict between American Jews who have assimilated into American...
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