The Prison by Bernard Malamud

During Literature class we read the story “The Prison” by Bernard Malamud, and analysed the story and found some facts about the writer to understand the story

Bernard Malamud: 

  • American novelist and short story writer.
  • Wrote about Jewish immigrant life.
  • His “Russian” parents escaped from Tsarist Russia.
  • His stories portray immigrant characters through emotional language.

Focus on the 1st paragraph

  1. The protagonist is called Tony, but he was made to change his name to Tommy. His life is a screaming bore, it makes him sick to his stomach to think of all the mistakes he has committed in his life.
  2.  When he was a kid he had many dreams, he wanted to get out of that immigrant neighbourhood he was living in.
  3. While he was a teenager he quit school and where he was being educated to be a shoemaker, and began to hang out with a gang, he became a teenager with a criminal record. He on his own wasted his opportunity to full-fill his dreams, and leave the neighbourhood.
  4. After that his father arranged for Tommy to get married with Rosa Agnello, and her father would give them a candy store so that he could live an honest life. He tried making his own decisions, so he left to Texas to avoid getting married to Rosa, but when she came back, everything was re-organised and he married Rosa. All though people took very important decisions for him, he never stood up for himself and made his own decisions.

The Prison: Analysis

  • “screaming bore” “trapped in old mistakes” (element of instability, triggers the story)
  • “dreams and schemes” (boy) wanted to escape that Italian neighbourhood, he failed
  • “made mistakes” joined a gang and became a vandal (teenager)
  • Decisions people made for him: Rosa changed his name (Tony – Tommy) loss of identity
  • Arranged marriage (his father and Rosa’s father)
  • Candy store (made to run the store by his father-in-law)He attempted to change his life (escaped to Texas) but he came back. Failed to make his own decisions. 
  • Tommy is doomed to fail, destined to a futile life (ineffective; unsuccessful)

Re-read from page 156 “It happened that Rosa…(…) up to page 157 ran out of the store”

  • symbolism of “Mirror”. (Apply it to the story)

Throughout the mirror Tommy first he realised the girl was stealing from him. Then he sees himself in the girl, as seeing her brought him regretful memories about his childhood, and feels obligated to help her, so he can save himself

  • check the meaning of “specularity” or “specular moment”, explain this in the story.

There is a specular moment between Tommy and the girl, when he sees her reflected in the mirror, and at the same time he sees himself reflected in her.

  • What’s the irony here?

Because the girl has nothing to do with him, or his childhood. He feels identified with her and with what she is doing.

  • Is the girl a “thief”?

No she is not a thief, she is just a naive girl trying to feel superior.

  • Tommy has a flashback. What does this mean?
  • What does he feel he has to do? Who’s he really talking about?

Un pensamiento en “The Prison by Bernard Malamud

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