Study Guide

The Magic Barrel What's Up With the Ending?

By Bernard Malamud

What's Up With the Ending?

The ending is where the story's philosophy and attitude towards God comes right to a head. In a lot of ways this story ends prematurely, since we don't know if Leo and Stella hit it off, whether Leo can "save" Stella, or why Salzman's hanging out chanting "prayers for the dead" (202).

It ends with a lot of questions unanswered… which is kind of the point. Let's break it down.

There's a lot of hope for Leo and Stella. Leo has already "concluded to convert (Stella) to goodness, himself to God" (189). He's approaching the meeting with her with a lot of chips on the betting table. He wants to resolve all of the struggles and insecurities he's been fighting with for the whole story.

Stella seems to share in his wild desire to end loneliness, with her eyes "filled with desperate innocence" (201). So these potential lovers have nothing but sky-high expectations for what comes next—they're totally open to the possibility of falling in love.

Salzman, on the other hand, is a little more of a mystery. We don't know whether he doesn't want this union, since his daughter "should burn in hell" (188) or if he "had planned it all to happen this way" (200).

But his "chanting prayer for the dead" (202), which is the story's final image, suggests a kind of rebirth. We can assume that he's saying the Mourner's Kaddish. The Mourner's Kaddish is the central prayer of mourning, and it's less about death than it is about the mourner's continued belief in God even in grief.

So this final image is less about ghosts and corpses than it is about hope and faith continuing on even in times of darkness. Whoa—this might be an uplifting short story. You heard that right—a short story that is actually uplifting! This is a rare breed indeed.

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