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Free Study Guide for The Fixer by Bernard Malamud

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Yakov Bok is the protagonist of the novel.


The Deputy Warden is the antagonist.


The exposition of The Fixer tells us about Yakov Bok. We learn about the place where he lived many years, the shtetl. We learn why he felt that he should leave the shtetl and go to Kiev. We learn about the events that lead to the inciting moment.

The inciting moment occurs with the arrest of Yakov Bok, a Jew, for the murder of a Christian boy.

Rising Action

The rising action leads us from the time when Yakov thinks that the reason he is in trouble is because he has been discovered living in an area which is forbidden to most Jews, to the time of his meeting with Raisl during which Raisl presents him with a confession for him to sign. Between these times, Yakov is in prison and his situation becomes worse and worse, until it is almost unbearable.


The climax is when Yakov writes that his confession is truly a lie in the place where he is supposed to sign it.

Falling Action

The falling action takes place as Yakov finally receives his long-awaited indictment and a trial is scheduled. Without an indictment and trial, Yakov could be held in prison indefinitely.


The outcome or denouement occurs as Yakov is taken in a carriage to his trial. Until one reads the story, the ending may seem premature. After all, there is nothing written about the trial, let alone about the verdict. But, the fact that Yakov never confesses and finally receives an indictment and trial is truly a victory for Yakov and represents an outcome to the story in itself.


The Fixer begins in a shtetl in Russia where Yakov lives near his father-in-law, Shmuel. Before the beginning of the story, Yakov’s wife, Raisl, left him. There was friction in the marriage because the couple did not have a child. Yakov has made a decision to leave the shtetl and go elsewhere. Yakov thinks that surely elsewhere his luck will improve. He loads a few things, including his books, onto a wagon and heads to Kiev.

When Yakov reaches Kiev, he has difficulty making a living. Then, he rescues a drunk from the snow where he had fallen. The man, Lebedev, rewards him for his help by giving him a short-term job. While working at Lebedev’s home, Yakov becomes acquainted with his daughter, Zinaida. Lebedev likes the work that Yakov does and offers him a job at a brickyard that he owns. On Yakov’s last day at Lebedev’s home, Zinaida invites Yakov to have dinner there to celebrate the end of one job and the beginning of a new one. After dinner, they go to Zinaida’s room to have sex. When Yakov sees that Zinaida is what he refers to as “unclean,” he decides not to go forward.

Yakov has some reservations about accepting Lebedev’s offer of the job at the brickyard because it entails living on the property. This would seem like a good setup because it would give Yakov a place to stay as well as a place to work. But, the brickyard is located in an area which is forbidden to Jews. Yakov does take the new position and soon he makes an enemy of Proshko who works at the brickyard. Proshko has been pilfering bricks and selling them himself. Because Yakov keeps count of the numbers of bricks produced, Proshko is no longer able to do this.

Yakov chases some neighborhood boys away from the brickyard He is observed doing this. One of the boys, Zhenia Golov, tells his mother, Marfa Golov, about the incident.

Yakov helps an old Hasid who has been injured by taking him to his place in the brickyard. He finds him a ride as soon as he can.

Later, Zhenia’s body is discovered in a cave with many stab wounds on it.

The authorities come to the brickyard and arrest Yakov. He knows that he has done something that is considered to be illegal, by living in a restricted area off-limits to Jews. But, he is at first, unaware of the actual accusations of ritual murder against him.

Bibikov, the Investigating Magistrate, is a fair man who is interested in finding the boy’s killer. He does not especially want to find evidence pointing to Yakov or another Jew. But, he is definitely in the minority among the authorities. What others want is evidence pointing toward Yakov, a Jew, not toward the actual perpetrator of the crime. To make it easy for them to prosecute, they want a confession by Yakov. That would end the investigation.

Yakov is taken to the home of the murder victim and then to the site where the body was found. Many others go with them. Father Anastasy, a self-proclaimed expert on ritual murder tells the group his ideas on how the crime took place. No one listens to anything Yakov says. Everyone seems to know that he is guilty and that is all they care about.

Yakov is transferred to another prison and then to a solitary cell. Another prisoner is put in a nearby cell. They try to communicate with each other, but are unable to do so. Some days later, Yakov’s cell is left unlocked. He decides to attempt a visit with his neighbor. But, the man is dead. Yakov is horrified to discover that the unlucky prisoner is Bibikov.

As time passes Yakov slowly gives up hope of receiving an indictment. Until he is indicted, he cannot have the aid of a lawyer, and he will be left in the prison without any outcome. Despite this, with or without hope of a trial, Yakov refuses to confess.

Shmuel, Yakov’s father-in-law, manages to bribe one of the prison guards through the guard’s brother. He is allowed a very short visit. To Yakov, the visit seems like one of his many hallucinations. The guard who enabled the meeting is discovered and taken from Yakov. In his place, the prison assigns a much harsher guard.

Yakov’s wife makes a bargain with the authorities. She will ask Yakov to sign a confession in exchange for a chance to visit with him. She does her part, but not forcefully since she is only interested in how he is and in what she wants to say to him, not to coerce him into signing a confession of the murder. She tells him that she has had a child and she wants him to be the child’s father figure. She wants a written statement from Yakov saying that he is the father, but she and Yakov cannot pass items to each other with the exception of the confession of murder. Yakov writes that the confession is a lie where he is expected to put his signature. Then, on the envelope of the confession, he puts a statement that he is the father of the child. Raisl takes both the confession form and the envelope as she leaves. She pockets the envelope.

Yakov remains stubbornly against admitting what he did not do. He even refuses the offer of forgiveness for his crime as part of an amnesty decree in celebration of three hundred years of Romanov rule. Accepting amnesty would imply that he knows that he is guilty. It is tempting, in that he may be set free from prison, but he is innocent and the acceptance of the amnesty would not sit right in his heart.

Finally, Yakov receives an indictment for the crime and is allowed to speak with a lawyer. Slowly, the time of the trial arrives. As Yakov rides to the trial in a carriage, he knows that he has achieved his goal.


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