The artist as prisoner in the fiction of Bernard Malamud

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Chott, Laurence R.
Trimmer, Joseph F.
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The general idea of imprisonment in Bernard Malamud's ficiton manifests itself in his artists, who may be understood as "prisoners" dramatizing the artistic process as Malamud views it.Malamud's artists' struggle to balance art and life is expressed through the idea of imprisonment. When overemphasizing art, the artist is isolated, "imprisoned" in his or her work. Although this imprisonment is necessary temporarily, the artist must meet worldly responsibilities to find the freedom to create art, though artistic success is not guaranteed.Malamud's artists are always somehow imprisoned. In "The Girl of My Dreams" (1953), the writer Mitka rejects an uncooperative world, whereas the writer Olga transcends poverty and accepts the world. In "Man in the Drawer" (1968), the writer Levitansky is trapped in a totalitarian state. In "Rembrandt's Hat" (1973), the failed sculptor Rubin perseveres in art. And in "The Model" (1983), Elihu, mistaking himself for an artist, dehumanizes his model, Ms. Perry.In Pictures, Qj Fidelman (1969), Fidelman is imprisoned in artistic perfectionism. I n the Tenants (1971), writers Harry Lesser and Willie Spearmint are imprisoned in their obsessions. And in Dubin's Lives (1979), dubin is trapped in a false self-image.Malamud's artists are of two types: (1) the successful whose continued fulfillment is in question and (2) the so-far unsuccessful. Subtypes in the first group are the liberated (Dubin), the potentially liberated (Mitka, Levitansky), and the perpetually imprisoned (Lesser). Subtypes in the second group are the liberated (Fidelman, Ms. Perry) and the perpetually imprisoned (Rubin, Willie, Elihu).The exception is the successful a liberated Olga. Appearing in an early (1953) story, Olga embodies an answer to the problems of the artist; twenty-six years later, in Dubin's Lives (1979), Malamud's answer is the same: Maintain balance between art and life; keep the demands of art subordinate to those of life.The idea of the artist as prisoner in Malamud's fiction implies the difficulty of artistic endeavor. Malamud's artists, like his other characters, face suffering. Their art is a potentially imprisoning complication, not an escape from life's problems. Ultimately, the artist must face the world and its demands.