The Model by Bernard Malamud
In The Model by Bernard Malamud we have the theme of identity, insecurity, loneliness, connection, loss and paralysis. Taken from his The Complete Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Malamud may be exploring the theme of loneliness. Mr Elihu lives on his own. His wife and daughter have died and there is a sense that he has nobody else in his life. Which may be the reason as to why he has decided to paint again. In many ways painting is a form of connection for Mr Elihu. It may also be important that Mr Elihu doesn’t describe or consider himself to be a good painter as Malamud may be playing on the theme of insecurity. With nobody in his life the only option that Mr Elihu has is to paint though he does admit to Ms Perry that he is not very good at it. However painting appears to be all that Mr Elihu has and he seems to live his life in fear of being continually lonely. The fact that the reader is aware that Mr Elihu is seventy years old may also be significant as one would expect a seventy year old to be at least comfortable within themselves particularly as they have lived. However this is not the case for Mr Elihu. Loneliness and insecurity play on his mind. The reader aware that the cause for such insecurity is the fact that Mr Elihu has nobody in his life to reassure him that things are okay.
Ms Perry’s character may also be important as she doesn’t really have much sympathy for Mr Elihu. The fact that there is a forty year gap in both character’s age doesn’t help nor does it help that Ms Perry is critical of Mr Elihu. In reality she may consider him to be (incorrectly) a pervert. The fact that she rubs out her sketch of Mr Elihu may also have some significance as Malamud may be exploring the theme of identity. If anything Ms Perry is taking Mr Elihu’s identity away by rubbing out the sketch. She is belittling him and also may be suggesting that she does not have any respect for Mr Elihu. However some critics may suggest that Ms Perry is doing to Mr Elihu what he has done to her. Though it is also possible that by rubbing out the sketch Ms Perry is ultimately rejecting (in a non-sexual way) Mr Elihu. Which would further play on the theme of loneliness and connection.
The fact that there are only three characters in the story could further highlight the theme of loneliness. The woman on the phone is only a small character but she doesn’t stay talking to Mr Elihu though he wishes that she would. Also Ms Perry has no real interest in engaging in conversation with Mr Elihu. Apart from conversation that is necessary she doesn’t really talk to Mr Elihu. The fact that Mr Elihu’s bedroom is described as being empty may also have some significance as it too suggests that Mr Elihu is lonely and without any form of connection with another person. Also by having Mr Elihu describe his bathroom as being cold Malamud may be suggesting there is very little or no warmth in Mr Elihu’s life. As readers we are already aware that there is nobody in Mr Elihu’s life. Another interesting aspect about Ms Perry is that she may be acting professionally. What she is doing is a job to her. Though it would have cost her very little to have actually engaged with Mr Elihu.
The ending of the story is also interesting as the reader feels for Mr Elihu. We are aware that he is trying to connect with the world again and that his encounter with Ms Perry may have been his first engagement with another person in a long time or at least since his wife (or daughter) died. If anything the encounter with Ms Perry has shattered Mr Elihu’s already fragile confidence. And the reader is left suspecting that Mr Elihu may not engage with society again which would further play on the theme of connection (or the lack of it). The fact that Mr Elihu tries to paint Ms Perry’s face at the end of the story could also be important as he may be attempting to complete his painting. To at least have something for himself that he can look at. However it is also important that Mr Elihu can’t remember what Ms Perry’s face looks like as this suggests again that Mr Elihu is to have no comfort in his life. How he lives at the moment is how he is to spend the rest of his life. Unsure of who he is, lonely and longing to connect with other people and still recovering from the loss of his daughter and wife. If anything Mr Elihu is paralyzed with his life going nowhere.