Study Guide

The Magic Barrel Tone

By Bernard Malamud

Tone

Objective, Yet Sympathetic

Malamud doesn't mince words and he tells his story is crisp, objective terms. He wants us to understand the facts, and he doesn't use a lot of embellishment or adjectives. Check out this autumn apple-crisp prose:

Finkle, after six years of study, was to be ordained in June and had been advised by an acquaintance that he might find it easier to win himself a congregation if he were married. (1)

Not exactly dense, flowery language, is it?

Yet Malamud also uses the tone to sneak in little moments of sympathy here and there. For instance, look at the way he describes Leo's first look at Stella's picture, when "he gazed at it for a moment and let out a cry" (142).

He's not deviating from telling it like it is, and yet he lets us know that Leo has had a big emotional reaction to the image. It's hard not to feel for the guy in that moment, despite the fact that Malamud isn't overtly tipping his hand about Leo's roiling emotions. You can be objective and still guide the readers' hearts with a carefully chosen word. In fact, doing so might just win you the National Book Award.

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