Study Guide

The Magic Barrel Love

By Bernard Malamud

Love

This is one of the big ones: at the end of the day, all of us just want to be loved. Leo doesn't think he needs love early on—he's just looking for a bigger congregation—but as the story progresses, he realizes just how lonely he is and how much he needs Stella to make him happy.

But "The Magic Barrel" isn't just about Leo and love—it's about Salzman as well. He's unhappy because he's disowned his daughter, and the pain of it eats him alive. Acting as a matchmaker with Leo and his daughter is an attempt to make everything right in one fell swoop. We don't know if he ultimately succeeds, since the story fades out before we learn for certain. That might not matter though: the quest to find love here is what matters, not necessarily the outcome.

Questions About Love

  1. At what point does Leo realize that he needs love?
  2. How do Salzman's efforts to help his clients reflect his views towards Stella?
  3. How do faith and religion intertwine with the search for love in this story?
  4. How much do surface impressions matter in this story? What does that say about love?

Chew on This

Leo truly loves Stella, even though he's only seen a picture of her.

Leo doesn't love Stella, but he must learn to love her if he is to succeed in his ambitions.

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