Author: Bernard Malamud Year: Genre: Format: Short Story


Mendel is the main character. He wants to send his son, Isaac, to his uncle so that his life is secure. To do so, Mendel requires 35 Dollars for the train ticket. Isaac is mentally challenged / disabled.

Mendel pawns his watch and gets 8 dollars.

Mendel knows that he is about to die. He wants to make sure his son’s life is set before he dies. Death is personified and takes the form of Mendel’s friend, Ginzburg.

“I got already seventy,” Mendel said, heavy-hearted. “All I need more is thirty-five.”

Clinging to Ginzburg in his last agony, Mendel saw reflected in the ticket collector’s eyes the depth of his terror. Ginzburg, staring at himself in Mendel’s eyes, saw mirrored in them the extent of his own awful wrath. He beheld a shimmering, starry, blinding light that produced darkness. Ginzburg looked astounded. “Who, me?”


  1. Mendel - Jewish immigrant; tries to send
  2. Isaac
  3. Ginzburg
  4. Rabbi
  5. Fishbein
  6. Uncle Leo


  1. Connection

  2. Desperation - Determination Mendel is desperate and will go to any lengths to ensure the safety of Isaac So determined that he stops death for a while

  3. Diasporic Elements alienation, people not ready to help; poverty, loneliness displacement

  4. Sacrifice and Survival Also, the title alludes to survival of the fittest and how “idiots” are the first to be sacrificed / “go down” Biblical allusion to Isaac

    Literary scholar Victoria Aaron offers another take, arguing that Malamud’s story evokes the Binding of Isaac—except that Mendel, the Abraham figure, “refuses to sacrifice that which he loves most. Like his biblical predecessor, Mendel is called forth to do the inconceivable. But unlike Abraham, Mendel … will not acquiesce to the commanding voice of the law.” ^[]

Malamud is not preoccupied with the uniqueness of the Jewish experience. The Jew for Malamud is a metaphor for all human beings.

“Jewishness is important to me,” Malamud asserts, “but I don’t consider myself only a Jewish writer. I have interests beyond that, and I feel I am writing for all men.”

Blends fantasy and realism bleak nightscape of New York City

Significance of the Title

that prioritizes survival of the fittest, where those deemed “idiots” or weak are left behind or sacrificed for the sake of the stronger or more capable individuals