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“The Jewbird” is written by Bernard Malamud. The setting of this short story is an apartment in New York City. The story features four characters, which are Cohen, Edie, Maurie, and Schwartz, a crow (Josh & Joshua 111). The story’s protagonist is the crow, which considers itself as a Jewbird. The three other characters are members of the Jewish family. In the story, Schwartz hopes to find a cover in the family’s apartment, but Cohen, the head of the family, is not as welcoming to Schwartz as the rest of his family (Malamud 581). In this short story, the author uses allegory through the Jewbird to present a wider concept and idea. Through the Jewbird, the author manages to communicate the themes of identity, displacement, assimilation and anti-Semitism. Therefore, the main objective of this paper is to analyze the underlying themes represented by the Jewbird in a bid to analyze the message the author tries to pass through in the story.
In the story, the author symbolically uses the crow named Schwartz as a Jewbird to represent a radical Jew (Josh & Joshua 123). The author equates the crow to a Jew, who can talk both Yiddish and Jewish language. The Jewbird conducts a conversation with the family of Cohen and prays, when it meets the family for the first time at dinner (Malamud 580). The crow also asks Cohen to treat him as a human being by offering him a warmer place to sleep inside the house. The author also decides to give the Jewbird a Jewish name, Schwartz. Actually, Cohen is not even sure whether Schwartz is a real bird or a ghost. The author tries to present his ideas through a minor subject such as a bird (Avery 99). The Jewbird symbolizes and represents the displaced Jewish community, which had migrated to New York but faced discrimination from their fellow swore brothers (Josh & Joshua 112). The author uses the Jewbird to represent the radical Jews and indicate their place in their adopted countries. The fact that the bird moved around represents the idea that Jews constantly moved around in search of a better place, where they could stay without facing persecution (Malamud 583). The bird may also represent the way the Jews were treated in the society. Actually, they were ranked lowly and mistreated by other society members. For example, in the story, Cohen wants the Jewbird to go away and never come back to his house. This is proved by the fact that Cohen never liked Schwartz, as well as Jews were never welcomed anywhere (Brad 64).
Through the Jewbird, the author passes across the theme of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism refers to hatred, hostility, or discrimination against Jews as an ethnic, racial or religious group (Avery 98). It is evident form the story that there exists anti-Semitism through Jewish self-hatred. In Malamud’s story, the crow Schwartz identifies himself as a Jewbird signifying his identity as Jewish to Cohen’s family who are also Jewish. As soon as the Jewbird lands on Cohen’s dinner table and introduces himself through his Jewish talk, it is clearly not welcome by Cohen (Malamud 582). Cohen gets angry with the bird and is not willing to share his food with Schwartz. Cohen wonders loudly what business has brought the bird to his home and family. Such an attitude symbolizes the first sign of hatred towards Schwartz, who also identifies himself as a radical Jew through his Yiddish language (Brad 60). Edie asks the bird, what is its destination and why is it running away. The bird replies by suggesting that it was running from anti-Semites. Obviously, the bird was already aware of the existence of anti-Semites. Thus, it brings forward the theme of anti-Semitism. Edie and Maurie wonder which anti-Semites would even presume to harm a mere bird. The bird suggests that even other crows would aim at harming him (Brad 62). This is symbolic to Jewish self-hatred. The Jewbird also alludes to the fact that once they got removed, which may refer to the holocaust, where the Jews were wiped out. This shows another anti-Semitism campaign. When Edie and her son Maurie find Schwartz dead, Maurie questions on who has killed the bird so brutally. Edie remarks that, probably, anti-Semites carried out the killing (Avery 106). This pinpoints to hatred that Jews got from their adversaries. From the story, the ultimate end of Schwartz represents just how much hatred anti-Semites bore. His brutal death, where his neck got twisted, and his eyes plucked out represent the hatred his killer felt towards him (Josh & Joshua 113).
The author of “The Jewbird” also communicates the theme of displacement. The Jewbird moves from his initial home and comes to Cohen and his family’s apartment (Brad 60). The Jewbird alludes to the fact that he is running and flying away from vultures, eagles, hawks and even other crows like him. The eagles, vultures, and hawks may refer to other cultures, different from the Jewish. The other crows may refer to Jews that were unkind to Schwartz (Malamud 582). Thus, this is the first form of displacement in the story, which symbolizes the fact that Jews were forced to move from their original homes because of the holocaust. The Jewbird is portrayed as one who has moved from home to home looking for a caring family that would offer him a shelter and protection from anti-Semites. The theme of displacement is shown by Cohen’s reluctance to allow the bird settle in his house even though his other family members love Schwartz (Avery 102). Cohen is constantly trying to get rid of the bird. He complains that the bird smells and snores loudly and he cannot even sleep at night. He does not provide Jewbird with a place in his home, but he rather wants to make Schwartz leave. He tries to intimidate the bird by bringing a cat in the house as pretense of a gift to his son Maurie (Brad 61). Eventually, Cohen gets a chance to get rid of a bird, when his wife takes his son for a violin lesson. He takes the bird from its cage and pushes it away from the apartment balcony..
The author also recovers the theme of assimilation through the means of symbols. Cohen is a representative of those Jews who moved to America and got deeply assimilated into the American culture (Brad 62). They get so assimilated that they even disregard their Jewish practices. Cohen, for example, did not care about Jewish practices such as prayer. It is clearly shown when the Jewbird conducts prayer, and Cohen responds sarcastically to these prayers (Avery 91). Cohen also curses a lot, which is not an appropriate behavior for the Jews. Cohen’s over assimilation has also caused him to lose tolerance towards his fellow Jews, in this instance, the Jewbird. He develops an anti-Semite stand towards the Jewbird and mistreats him constantly. Cohen mocks the bird further when he discovers that the bird has a Jewish name and claims to be Jewish (Brad 63). The Jewbird meanwhile experiences under assimilation, which is portrayed by the fact that he cannot settle anywhere and has to move in order to find an appropriate place to live. He still maintains his radical Jewish behavior and practices such as prayer and feeding habits (Malamud 584). The Jewbird’s behavior, such as drinking schnapps, eating herrings and reading Jewish morning journals, belongs to the orthodox Jewish practices. Unfortunately, the Jewbird fails to adapt to his new environment, and this ultimately leads to his undoing (Josh & Joshua 96).
In his short story “The Jewbird”, Malamud uses the crow to communicate on underlying issues regarding anti-Semitism in the Jewish community. He manages to present several themes by use of a symbolic Jewish bird named Schwartz. The author shows issues such as anti-Semitism, displacement and assimilation through the interaction between the Jewbird and Cohen’s family.