A New Life Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1961

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Realism

Time of work: 1950-1951

Locale: The northwestern United States

Characters DiscussedSeymour Levin

Seymour New Life, ALevin, a Jewish college professor. He is a thirty-year-old, bearded, East Coast liberal, recovering from a two-year drinking episode following his mother’s suicide and his rejection by his lover. A failure in love and in his profession, Levin goes to the West Coast to teach in the English department of a state university, hoping to start a new life. By mistake, he finds himself at the state technical school rather than at the liberal arts school. He quickly becomes embroiled in the departmental squabbles about textbooks and the relative importance of teaching composition versus literature. Eventually, out of desperation, he quixotically enters the competition for department chairman. In the meantime, he has an affair with the wife of the man who is primarily responsible for giving him the job and who will become the new chairman. Levin’s experiences within the department and with Pauline leave him with the ability to face life on its terms, exemplified by his willingness to assume responsibility for her and her children.

Pauline Gilley

Pauline Gilley, the wife of the assistant department chairman. Thirty-two years old and discontented with her marriage and with life in general, she initiates an affair with Levin, as she did with his predecessor in the department. Whatever her faults, Pauline needs someone more capable of expressing love than is her husband.

Gerald Gilley

Gerald Gilley, a college English teacher, the director of composition and eventually the department chairman. More interested in departmental politics and fishing than in teaching or in his family, Gilley is uneasy about Levin’s beard, his Jewishness, and his idealistic liberalism because they threaten his complacency. Within a short time of Levin’s arrival, he and Levin are on opposite sides in departmental controversies. His references to the virtues of teaching are actually rationalizations for lack of commitment to anything aside from himself. His response to his wife’s affair is very self-centered: He feels betrayed by the man he brought into the department and has him fired.

C. D. Fabrikant

C. D. Fabrikant, the only scholar in the department. In his fifties, a Harvard man, and theoretically a liberal, Fabrikant is also an outsider in the department. He is the spokesman for the opposition and Gilley’s principal contender for the chairmanship. Levin is disappointed to discover that resentment and desire for power, rather than liberalism, are his primary motivators; consequently, Levin runs for the position himself.

Aviss Fliss

Aviss Fliss, a teacher of remedial composition and assistant to the director. Miss Fliss, in her thirties, is the only unmarried woman in the department and fails in her attempt to have an affair with Levin. A major source of gossip about her colleagues, she also serves as a spy for Gilley.

Leonard Duffy

Leonard Duffy, Levin’s predecessor in the department and in the arms of Pauline. An outsider from the East, like Levin, he never fit in. Gilley drove him from the school when he became suspicious of the relationship with Pauline.

BibliographyAstro, Richard, and Jackson J. Benson, eds. The Fiction of Bernard Malamud. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1977. Malamud was an instructor in English at Oregon State University from 1949 to 1961. This volume has been faithful to the papers as they were presented in a tribute to Malamud at a conference held at the university. Contains the opinions of several foremost American critics about Malamud’s work, interspersed with stories and anecdotes which make for lively reading. An extensive secondary bibliography is also provided.Field, Leslie A., and Joyce W. Field, eds. Bernard Malamud: A Collection of Critical Essays. 1970. Rev. ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1975. This nine-essay volume is the modest version of the original 1970 publication, which compiled twenty-one of the most important essays on Malamud’s work in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Contains an interview with Malamud based on discussions he had with the authors in 1973. Places emphasis on Malamud’s Jewish background in the context of Israel, with an essay by Sheldon Norman Grebstein entitled “Bernard Malamud and the Jewish Movement.”Ochshorn, Kathleen. The Heart’s Essential Landscape: Bernard Malamud’s Hero. New York: Peter Lang, 1990. Chapters on each of Malamud’s novels and his short-story collections. Seeks to continue a trend in Malamud criticism that views his heroes as tending toward the mensch and away from the schlemiel. Includes a bibliography but no notes.Richman, Sidney. Bernard Malamud. Boston: Twayne, 1966. Although limited in scope, this criticism is a valuable overview of Malamud’s work to the mid-1960’s. Gives a sensitive reading of the author’s first three novels and his first two collections of stories.Salzberg, Joel, ed. Critical Essays on Bernard Malamud. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. An excellent source for diverse material on Malamud’s writing; a must for Malamud scholars. Provides a strong introduction by Salzberg with much insight into Malamud’s work and his place in literature. The essays are well chosen; some are reprints, but there is a first printing of an essay by Sidney Richman entitled “Malamud’s Quarrel with God.”Solotaroff, Robert. Bernard Malamud: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1989. Divided into a section of essays on the short stories, a section on Malamud’s view of life and art, and a final section of selections from his major critics. Provides chronology and bibliography.
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