The Elusive Form: the Use of Female Characters in "Naked Nude"

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The Elusive Form: The Use of Female Characters in "Naked Nude"

Michael McBee

Thesis and Outline:

Thesis: In his picturesque short story, "The Naked Nude", Bernard Malamud uses the female characters to develop, enact, and resolve Fidelman's epiphany and to bring about the protagonist's final, artistic self-understanding.

I. Introductory paragraph--statement of thesis.
II. The prostitutes
A. in contrast to Fidelman's initial idea of the artistic nude B. "maybe too many naked women around made it impossible to draw a nude"--establish basis of conflict within Fidelman III. Teresa

A. flat, static character--functions totally as a touchstone for Fidelman
B. provides Fidelman's first turn towards artistic epiphany IV. Bessie, his sister
A. childhood memory brings about full epiphany
V. Venus of Urbino
A. aesthetic constant--she, as a painting, remains static B. Fidelman's method of viewing her evolves, providing his epiphany
VI. Relationship of female characters VII. Conclusion and restatement of thesis.

Bernard Malamud, a leading contemporary Jewish author, skirts between fantasy and reality in his almost allegorical short fiction, teaching the reader a lesson through coinciding elements of beauty and comedy. Venturing away from his usual, inner-city Jewish element, Malamud tackles new challenges of subject and setting in his novelistic collection of short stories, Pictures of Fidelman . Malamud develops his protagonist through a series of six, interrelated short works, each of which may function entirely independent from the others. In "The Naked Nude," for instance, Fidelman comes to a new, artistic maturity through his attempt to copy the famous painting "Venus of Urbino" by Titian Tiziano. Malamud's recurring theme of self-knowledge through suffering permeates this short work. Scarpio and Angelo, as primary antagonists, provide the bulk of this suffering for Fidelman. It is his own mental captivity concerning the female nude, however, that gives cause for Fidelman's eventual epiphany asan artist and as an individual. His relationship to the women in the work shapes his ability to capture the form of the "Venus" and to come to grips with his own self-worth. In "The Naked Nude," Bernard Malamud uses the female characters to develop, enact, and resolve Fidelman's epiphany and to bring about the protagonist's final, artistic self understanding.

At the story's outset, Fidelman is forced to act as janitor and manservant to a group of ill mannered prostitutes under the employment of the padrone, Angelo. These offensive characters establish the first of a series of mental obstacles in the imprisoned protagonist's attempt to copy Titian's nude. They torment Fidelman with cynical laughter and exploit his demeaning position. His sexual insecurity is established at the beginning of the story when he ponders his violent guillotine sketch, asking "A man's head or his sex?...either case a terrible wound" (Malamud 318). The limited omniscient narrator, revealing Fidelman's thoughts and feelings, also suggests that he could gain "no inspiration from whores," and that "maybe too many naked women around made it impossible to draw a nude" (Malamud 325). This illustrates Fidelman's early accreditation of his artistic impotency to desensitization. He soon recognizes, however, that the way in which he views the "Venus" also interrupts his progress. In his effort to dissociate the portrayed goddess from the distasteful prostitutes, Fidelman doesn't see the true nature of her physical beauty. He sees only her "extraordinary flesh that can turn body into spirit" (Malamud 323). Any natural physical beauty present in the prostitutes escapes the copyist, as he embraces form over fact and the inherent spirit over the actual body.

Teresa, the "asthmatic, hairy-legged chambermaid" (Malamud 319), provides...
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