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Free Study Guide for The Fixer by Bernard Malamud

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When Yakov Bok is in chains in prison refusing to say that he committed a crime that he did not commit, he is freer than he was in the shtetl. Malamud helps us to see this and, in doing so, he helps us to discover what real freedom is.

Prior to the beginning of The Fixer, Yakov Bokís thinking has been influenced by Baruch Spinoza, the Seventeenth Century philosopher. Like his character, the author appears to have also been influenced by this important philosopher. Spinozaís thinking is to be found in the themes of this novel, as well as in conversations in which Yakov participates.

Real freedom, according to Spinoza, as voiced by Yakov, is in oneís thoughts.


Another theme of this book is responsibility. It is a frequent theme in Malamudís stories.

Spinoza also wrote about responsibility. Responsibility balances freedom. For a man to truly be free, he needs to have a sense of responsibility.

Manís Inhumanity to Man

The Fixer is filled with examples of men losing their humanity when dealing with men. The Deputy Warden never shows compassion when dealing with Yakov Bok. He is the antagonist in the story. There are also other examples of manís dark side.

There is the over-arching reason why Yakov is in prison. It is not because he has done something wrong. It is not even because the authorities honestly believe that he is guilty. Yakovís life is turned upside down because making him look guilty will help the Tsar maintain control. This plan definitely is an example of manís inhumanity to man.

There are comparatively minor incidents like putting bugs and other unsavory tidbits in the prisonersí food. Worse things, like keeping Yakov in irons while he tried to sleep frequently happen.

The theme of manís inhumanity to man is threaded throughout the story.


The Fixer is historical fiction.


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Johnson, Jane. "TheBestNotes on The Fixer". . 09 May 2017