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Free Study Guide for The Fixer by Bernard Malamud

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It was a long winter for Yakov. Spring was slow in arriving, even slower in the cell than outside. But, even slower than the arrival of spring was the indictment.

The spring rain seeped into Yakov's cell. It made a puddle. The dripping of the rain into the cell kept him awake.

Yakov, stressed by the long imprisonment, feared that he might lose his sanity. Desperately wanting something to do, Yakov opened one of the phylacteries.

Eventually, Zhitnyak saw the phylactery scrolls. He confiscated the scrolls and gave them to the Deputy Warden, who was pleased to receive what he considered to be new evidence against Yakov.

Later, Zhitnyak gave Yakov a green copy of the New Testament. It was to help him repent for what he had done. Remembering his upbringing, Yakov did not open the book for a while. But, eventually, he did. He felt sort of a kinship with Jesus. The crucifixion moved him deeply.

Yakov, to improve his mind, learned some of the gospel verses by heart. He recited what he remembered aloud. The guards heard him. One night Kogin, the guard, commented on a child killer quoting Christ's words. As they volleyed words back and forth, Yakov mentioned a passage in the New Testament that mentions drinking blood. Kogin asked where he had heard that. Yakov told him that he had read it in the Gospel of John. Kogin did not ask where he was when he read it.

The following night Kogin was back at the cell wanting to hear what else Yakov could remember. Yakov gave him a few quotes. The next night, Kogin accused Yakov of having the book from which he was quoting in his cell. Yakov said that it had been put into his pocket without his knowledge on one of his trips to the kitchen, as Zhitnyak had suggested he say. Kogin was more interested in hearing more quotes than in pursuing the rule infraction. As he told Yakov, Kogin thought of himself as a family man. Yakov gave more quotes, but spoiled the mood by asking Kogin for paper and pencil. Kogin called the request a "Jew trick." That was the end of their bible study.


Here again is a mention of the color green. This time it is a copy of the New Testament that is green.



As spring arrived, the occasional scent of flowers caused Yakov's heart to ache. In late spring, a priest who had heard about Yakov's interest in the New Testament came to the cell. He wanted to help facilitate Yakov's conversion to the Orthodox faith. He tried to convince an unwilling Bok that it was a good strategy. If they were to hear of his conversion, his captors would surely reconsider their charges. But, Yakov was not to be converted.

Later, the Deputy Warden took the phylacteries and the New Testament. Afterward, the Deputy Warden threw some pages of the Old Testament written in Hebrew at the fixer.



The situation worsened. The broom wore out. There was no fire to tend. Meals were left for Yakov in his cell. The guards rarely spoke to him. All that remained of Yakov's sanity-maintaining routine was waking up, meals and searches. Yakov stopped keeping count of days with splinters.

Yakov read the scrapes of paper that had some of the Old Testament on them. He compared the Old Testament God to the god of Spinoza. Watching Yakov read, Zhitnyak suggested that he rock like people in the synagogue did. So, Yakov rocked. The Deputy Warden saw him.

The fixer managed to escape into what he was reading. He also escaped by walking. One problem with walking, however, was that it wore out his foot coverings and then, because he could not get replacement coverings, walking started to wear out his feet.

Yakov thought about the past. His thoughts of the past often included memories of Raisl. And, he often read the torn pages of the Old Testament that told the story of Hosea and God's command that he marry a harlot.



Yakov received a letter from Marfa. It was insultingly addressed to "The Murderer of Zhenia Golov." At first he wondered if an indictment could possibly be addressed that way. Marfa wanted him to confess to the murder. The letter raised many questions for Yakov.

The following morning Yakov could not find the letter. It had disappeared.

The Deputy Warden would only let Yakov write back if his letter included a confession of guilt to which Yakov would not agree.

That night, Yakov had a dream of Marfa tempting him to confess.



Yakov dreamed of Zhenia. He was dead, but singing, nonetheless, in a corner of the cell. Because of that he feared that, if he went crazy, as seemed to be happening, he might confess to the crime of which he was accused. He had a vision that his fellow orphans were attempting to rescue him. And, he had a vision of Black Hundreds, with Nicholas the Second nearby, wanted to get a hold of him. He had more dreams and visions until finally he came out of it. He questioned Zhitnyak about what had happened. He said that the fixer had had a fever. From what Zhitnyak said, it didn't seem that Yakov had made any confession.



One night, Shmuel appeared at the peephole. Yakov thought that he was having another vision. Shmuel said that he could only stay ten minutes. That was all that he had been able to buy with the forty rubles he had recently received in exchange for some sugar beets that he had acquired. The deal for his visit had been made with the guard, Zhitnyak's brother acting as a middle man. Zhitnyak, who usually worked days, had traded shifts with the night guard, Kogin, whose son had been arrested. Yakov wanted to know how Shmuel had found him. When Shmuel read about a nameless Jew who had been accused of murdering a Christian child, he had sensed that it was Yakov. Later, the counterfeiter, Gronfein, had spread the word that the name of the accused was Yakov Bok. Shmuel had tried to find Gronfein after he heard that he knew about Yakov, but was unsuccessful. Eventually, by chance, Shmuel had talked to Zhitnyak's brother.

Shmuel had once tried to send Yakov a package, but it was returned, supposedly because there was no such prisoner. Yakov told Shmuel to leave before he got caught. First, Shmuel wanted to know why he was in this trouble. Yakov told him that he had been stupid. Shmuel thought that it was because he had forgotten his God. Yakov told Shmuel that God had forgotten him, if He existed at all. Yakov preferred Spinoza's way of looking at God and Nature. Shmuel suggested that Yakov read the Torah instead.

Zhitnyak hurriedly told them that more than ten minutes had already passed. Yakov told Shmuel to talk to the newspapers and to rich Jews.

As an afterthought, Yakov asked about Raisl as Shmuel was being rushed away. Shmuel did not have time to answer.


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