Themes in Bernard Malamud’s ‘The Jewbird’

In the Jewbird, the author confronts the idea that one of the most substantial forces in human life is the desire for control. Conversely if control is lost, people often turn hostile to carry out their wishes. Throughout Malamud’s stories, the notion of control is defined as the ability to dictate the outcome of any given situation according to personal desire. In the Jew bird, Harry Cohen is the model of this behavior, as the arrival of Schwartz, a talking Jew bird causes him to lose control over his family and temper. The Jew bird insinuates that lack of control leads to a type of primal desperation, hinting that it is the nature of mankind to commit desperate acts in the quest for control.

Malamud highlights the various attitudes to Jewish heritage in the short story ‘The Jew bird’ like acknowledgement, indifference, or denial. These varying contrasting attitudes to Jewishness often contribute to a clash between two characters one character’s initial indifference to Jewishness evolves towards an implicit or explicit acknowledgement of this heritage.

The Jew bird is an allegory demonstrating that a homeland for Jews was a humanitarian necessity. Israel must continue to exist as a safe haven for those who need one and for those who choose to make Israel their nation.

The main theme of the story is racism. Schwartz the Jew bird is strongly discriminated against by Cohen. Schwartz was helpful and did all he could to help Maurice with his studies. He respected the household and did what he was told so he could continue staying with the Cohen family. Cohen hated Schwartz for no obvious reason. The only reason Cohen didn’t get rid of Schwartz was that Maurice was attached to him. Cohen left Schwartz outside during winter. He treated Schwartz like a slave, sabotaged his meals and kept him awake at night by popping paper bags in front of his little birdhouse. One day when Maurice and Edie were out for violin lessons Cohen decided to get rid of Schwartz by trying to kill him. Schwartz narrowly escaped when Maurice found him dead near a river all Cohen said was ‘Antisemists’.

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