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Free Study Guide for The Fixer by Bernard Malamud

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Now it was almost three months since Yakov's arrest. He had been in the current prison about one month. Yakov was still trying to understand his situation. And, he wondered why he had not seen Bibikov for over a month. He decided that what was happening was simply because he was a Jew. It was not personal. But, his suffering felt very personal.

A man named Gronfein joined the inmates. He was fat and rich. He was generous, but not sincerely friendly. He and Yakov stayed away from each other for awhile. Then, one day, speaking Yiddish, he asked Yakov if he was a Jew and told him that he also was a Jew. When he found out that Yakov was the one accused of being the murderer of the child, he told him that he was a martyr for all Jews. Gronfein said that he himself was a counterfeiter.

When he and Yakov talked again, Yakov was taken aback by Gronfein's questions. Gronfein wanted to know how the boy died.

The following day, Gronfein told Yakov about a rumor that he had heard. If Yakov were to go to trial, there would be a pogrom.

Later, Gronfein was taken out of the cell for half an hour. When he came back, he said that he was to be released. He asked Yakov if he would like to write a letter. He offered him a pencil, paper, an envelope and a promise to put stamps on the letter. The more he thought about it, the more Yakov wanted to write a letter. He wrote to Shmuel and to Aaron Latke, the man in whose flat he had stayed before becoming entangled with Lebedev.

A quarter hour after Gronfein was released, Yakov was taken to Warden Grizitskoy's office. The warden had Yakov's letters that Gronfein had said he would mail. By writing, Yakov had broken prison regulations, he was told. Gronfein, who was there, explained that he had a worried wife and five children. Then, the Deputy Warden, who was also there, told Yakov that Gronfein had given them a written statement that Yakov wanted to bribe Gronfein to kill the man who had seen him attempting to kidnap the boy. Gronfein had also written that Yakov wanted him to bribe Marfa Golov not to testify. Yakov was told that, from then on, he would be in strict confinement.


The Deputy Warden is the antagonist of the book. While he is under Warden Grizitskoy in rank, he seems much less humane and civilized.



Yakov was in solitary confinement. Again, he was led to the warden's office. Bibikov, the Investigating Magistrate, was there conferring with the Deputy Warden. The Deputy Warden was not pleased with Bibikov's plan to interview Yakov. But, Bibikov persisted and got what he wanted. When they were alone in the office, Bibikov told Yakov that he had recently been to St. Petersburg and had consulted with the Minister of Justice, Count Odoevsky. Bibikov had wanted to have the charge of murder dropped. He was told, by the Minister of Justice, to continue his investigation. The minister felt that the evidence should confirm Yakov's guilt. Bibikov admitted to feeling pressure to make the evidence conform. Bibikov told Yakov that the Minister of Justice had suggested that, if the job was too much for him, he could be relieved of his duties. Bibikov told Yakov that the Prosecuting Attorney, Grubeshov, had already convinced himself of Yakov's guilt. Bibikov promised that, while pretending to cooperate with the others, he would continue his investigation.

Once he had his proof, he would go again to the Ministry of Justice. And, if they still wanted to prosecute him, he might go to the press. He said that he was already developing plans to leak some information to the press. He knew that Yakov was innocent. He asked for Yakov's patience and confidence. Yakov acknowledged that he trusted Bibikov. Bibikov's theory, he said, was that Marfa Golov or her blind lover or one of their gang had committed the crime in Marfa's house. Yakov asked what led to that conclusion. Bibikov said simply that thieves quarrel. He added that Proshko and Richter burned down the stable at the brickyard.

Yakov asked Bibikov what the Prosecuting Attorney knew. Bibikov didn't know for sure what Grubeshov knew, but said that he would do whatever advanced his career.

They went on to discuss Father Anastasy. Bibikov called him a charlatan. He said that popes had already stated that things Father Anastasy spoke of were not true.

Bibikov told Yakov that he had a lawyer in mind for him, once he was finally indicted. Then, he told him that he was not alone and left.



A man was in a nearby cell. Yakov could hear him, but, try as he might, he could not understand what he was saying. They yelled to each other, repeatedly attempting to communicate, but failed. What did get through to Yakov was that the man's tale was heart-breaking.

One night Yakov woke at the sound of moaning and, then, heard a stifled cry. He and the prisoner with whom he had been attempting to communicate were the only prisoners in the building. The following day a drunken guard left his cell door unlocked. Cautiously, Yakov went to finally meet the other prisoner while he had this rare opportunity. When he reached the cell, he saw a man hanging, dead. It took Yakov a long time to admit to himself that the man was Bibikov.


Chapter V, Part 5, seems to give some reasons why the officials felt that Bibikov needed to be controlled/killed. He had thoughts about going to the press. He seemed to be interested in having the truly guilty party be identified.


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