Out of these stories, it was Malamud’s “The Jewbird” which evoked the most personal response in me. The situation in which Schwartz, the scrawny blackish Jewbird, found himself in is all too familiar to me in some senses. A creature too smart for his own good, and yet lacking the simple everyday wisdom required for survival, someone who carries about him an aura of both scruffiness and elegance, and yet stubborn and unyielding to circumstances – he identifies easily as the type that attracts me, the intelligent loner.
And he finds himself in a situation typical for those who are labeled as intelligent loners: generally liked by those they aid in some way, and yet hated by your typical bully. This I know all too well from experience, and I cannot help but like the bird, who is tired and recognizes the danger he is placed in, yet still does what he does. I sympathize with the situation even more since this is the Jewbird we are talking about. I am generally sympathetic to Jewish culture: I happen to find that among the smarter, wiser and generally better-adapted people I know, there is a high percentage of Jews.
The People of the Book have managed to survive as a nation against all odds, which makes me respect them greatly. Yet America, the great melting pot of cultures, changes everything – and there is nothing worse than inner conflict, when those Jews that have assimilated attack those that have not yet done so. Malamud depicts this classical conflict in a deeply ironic way – emphasized, at least, by the surname “Cohen”, which is derived from the Jewish word for “Priest”. When someone from a line of holy men turns so hopelessly mundane, what hope can there be? Quite a bit. This story is inherently optimistic, despite its sad end.
The bird is like a spirit, one which came from nowhere, and one which lives on, to be reborn like the Phoenix in the hearts of those who care. Schwartz’s influence had been magical, and even though Malamud shows a regress as soon as the Jewbird is out of the picture, the impression had been left. Perhaps not in Mori, since we are shown that he will never rise above middle level, but in the next generation, it would show, this inner Jewish spirit. It is a thing of great beauty and of amazing survival ability, and this story, in its implied death and rebirth, captures it to the last stroke.