Study Guide

The Magic Barrel Appearances

By Bernard Malamud

Appearances

Hey, it's not super-surprising that a character being matched up to a potential date through photographs and biographical info alone is a tad superficial. We all have—or at least have heard—approximately one gajillion stories about the superficiality of OkCupid. We all have experienced—or at least have heard about experiencing—the joys of swiping left and right in an image-obsessed frenzy on Tinder.

A matchmaker is nothing more than a Luddite version of online dating. In the case of "The Magic Barrel," Leo is on JDate. But not only is Leo preoccupied with the appearance of his would-be bride; he's concerned with Saltzman's appearance. And Saltzman is concerned with his. "The Magic Barrel" shows us that not only do we often judge a book by its cover, but also we judge it correctly.

Questions About Appearances

  1. What can we tell about the characters by their appearance?
  2. How do the characters' various appearances demonstrate how different they are from each other? How do they unify them or bind them together?
  3. How are the inner lives of the characters reflected in how they look?
  4. How is Salzman's appearance honest in ways that his words are not?

Chew on This

Appearances can be deceiving in this story, and don't always reflect the truth.

Appearances are eminently trustworthy; these characters all wear their souls on their sleeve.

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