The Fixer Study Guide

The Fixer

The Fixer by Bernard Malamud

The Fixer by Bernard Malamud is a novel about a Jewish fixer that is wrongfully imprisoned in a Russian jail. When a Christian boy is killed during Passover, the Russian authorities accuse Yavok Bok of the murder. He is thrown in prison without evidence or any official charge. In jail, he is faced with horribly conditions and constantly interrogated in an attempt to make him confess to the crime.

The novel is about Yakov Bok, a Jewish handyman or "fixer". In 1911, while living in Kiev without official papers, Bok is arrested on suspicion of murder when a Christian boy is killed during Passover. Jailed without being officially charged and denied visitors or legal counsel, Bok is treated poorly and interrogated repeatedly in the hopes he will confess to killing the boy as part of a Jewish religious ritual. Among other things, he is asked about his political views, and replies that he is apolitical. Bok also tries to explain to his captors that though he was born Jewish, he is not a religious man.

During his many months in prison, he has time to contemplate his sad life and human nature in general. Part of Bok's torment is the knowledge those who attempt to help him are subjected to harassment and/or arrest by the government. After his father-in-law bribes a guard to allow him to speak with Bok, the prison guard is arrested and incarcerated. Bok's main advocate and supporter, Investigating Magistrate Bibikov, is arrested on trumped-up charges after visiting Bok in prison. Bibikov is kept in solitary confinement until he eventually commits suicide.

The only person permitted to visit Bok is his wife, who left him just before the novel began. She is only permitted to visit him because she promised to get him to sign a statement confessing to the murder of the Christian boy; ultimately Bok refuses to sign the statement because he did not commit the crime. It is during his wife's visit that he learns of his father-in-law's death and of his wife's child from her ex-lover. It is through his suffering Bok finally finds it in his heart to forgive his former wife and agrees to claim her bastard child as his own in order to help her regain respectability within the Jewish community.

In the last chapter of the novel, after spending over two years in prison, Bok is finally charged with an official crime and brought to trial. Only once he is charged is Bok finally permitted to obtain and speak with a lawyer. He is told by his lawyer that his case is only a symptom of a greater problem in Russia; if Bok had not been arrested for the murder, another Jew would have been. The lawyer also informs Bok there is great concern amidst the Jewish community that another great pogrom will happen.

In the final scene of the novel, while on his way to court Bok has an imaginary dialogue with Tsar Nicholas II, blaming the Tsar for ruling over the most backward and regressive regime in Europe. It is during this final sequence of events that Bok's transport is attacked and at least one Cossack guard is maimed. Bok famously concludes "there is no such thing as an apolitical man, especially a Jew."

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