Study Guide

The Magic Barrel Dissatisfaction

By Bernard Malamud

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These characters ain't happy. Leo is so twisted up in knots about who he is and where he's going that he can barely see straight. Salzman is nursing a wound so deep and abiding that he may take it to his grave. "Dissatisfaction" is the understatement of the year—these people aren't just unsatisfied, they're miserable.
And we don't really know whether they end up satisfied in the end, either. Maybe Leo and Stella aren't right for each other. And even if they do hit it off, is that going to ease Salzman's pain? But for these characters in "The Magic Barrel," the journey is the destination: what's important is not banishing your dissatisfaction, but just making the effort to banish it.

Questions About Dissatisfaction

  1. How does the characters' lack of satisfaction inform the choices they make?
  2. How does Leo go about vanquishing his unhappiness? Does it involve gaining or finding something, or is it something he just figures out in his head?
  3. How does Stella's unhappiness play a part in the story?

Chew on This

The characters ultimately resolve their unhappiness here.

The characters are still dissatisfied with their lot by the end, and probably always will be.

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