Study Guide

The Magic Barrel Story Summary

By Bernard Malamud

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Story Summary

  • Leo Finkle, rabbinical student is interested in finding a wife.
  • He contacts Pinye Salzman, a matchmaker, through an advertisement in the Forward.
  • Salzman shows up with a portfolio and photos of a bunch of girls.
  • The first girl, Sophie P. is a "widow one year. No children." (14). Leo turns her down because he doesn't want to marry a widow.
  • The next girl, Lily H. (Hirchorn), is a school teacher. She's thirty-two and Leo isn't interested because she's older than him. Way to be shallow, Leo.
  • The third girl, Ruth K, is only nineteen and her "Father offers thirteen thousand cash to the right bridegroom" (35) But then it comes out that she walks with a limp, and shallow Leo dismisses Salzman.
  • He's troubled by the interaction, but tries to forget about it.
  • Salzman has other plans, however, and shows up at his door.
  • Salzman pushes Lily H. again, promising that she's only twenty-nine instead of thirty-two.
  • He agrees to meet Lily and takes a walk with the girl along Riverside Drive.
  • Lily asks him "When… did you become enamored of God?" (109).
  • Leo replies, "I came to God not because I love Him, but because I did not." (111) This pretty much ends his Lily prospects, unsurprisingly. He comes off sounding like a jerk.
  • He realizes with horror that he is unloved and without prospects, and that his relationship with God may have something to do with.
  • General moping and pining ensues.
  • Salzman returns and Leo expresses dissatisfaction at the matchmaker's willingness to exaggerate his subjects' good qualities. He thinks Salzman is shadier than a used car salesman.
  • He informs Salzman that his services will no longer be required. Salzman leaves, but also drops off an envelope of pictures on Leo's table.
  • Leo attempts to find a girl himself, but nothing materializes.
  • One night, he opens up the envelope just to give it a look. There are six pictures inside, one of which sets his heart aflame with desire.
  • He runs to Salzman's apartment, where a surly old woman informs him that he's not in. Leo tells her to send Salzman to his apartment.
  • When he arrives, Salzman is waiting for him.
  • He shows her the picture of the girl and Salzman grows very upset: "She is not for you. She is a wild one--wild, without shame. This is not a bride for a rabbi." (182)
  • Salzman reveals that the girl is actually his daughter Stella, who he has disowned. He refuses to let Leo see her.
  • Leo persists and Salzman finally relents. Leo is "afflicted by a tormenting suspicion that Salzman had planned it all to happen this way" (200). Crafty, crafty.
  • Stella and Leo meet under a lamppost with high hopes. Around a nearby corner, Salzman "chanted prayers for the dead." (202)

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