In William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” the two main characters go to great lengths for love. The main characters reject their parents strong disapproval for their relationship and continue to be with one another. Like Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” Feld, the main character, in Bernard Malamud’s “The First Seven Years”, ignores and later resents the fact that Sobel, his employee, is in love with his only daughter, Mariam. Feld believes that Mariam deserves a boy who is well educated and financially stable. Even though Sobel has little formal education or wealth, he still offers what he does have to Mariam, his soul. Throughout “The First Seven Years” Malamud exhibits many literary devices such as symbolism, setting, and epiphany in order set up a well rounded theme for the reader. That a parents desires for his child is not necessarily what the child desires or needs.
In this short story, Malamud uses symbolism to exhibit the depth of Sobel’s love for Mariam. During the prelude of the story Feld is annoyed by Sobel’s “fanatic pounding at the other bench”(893). The continuous pounding of Sobel’s hammer symbolizes the strength of Sobel’s love for Mariam. For years Sobel silently exhibits his love by working hard at a very low salary. As Sobel is “pounding with all his might upon the naked last” (895) he shows his frustration for his plight. Not only will he not be a suitable husband in Feld’s eyes, Feld never even recognizes the bond being established by the couple through their books. Later in the story Feld admits his awareness of Sobel’s feelings, but does not want to face the prospect that Sobel might become Mariam’s suitor. The hammer symbolizes the frustration that Sobel feels, being unable to prove his love for Mariam.
Malamud gives great detail to the setting to establish Sobel’s poverty, making him unsuitable for Mariam in the eyes of her father. When Malamud describes Sobel’s apartment, the reader sees that Sobel has struggled financially. “The room was a small, poor one, with a single window facing the street” (898). In that quote Malamud is trying to show how poor Sobel is, having sacrificed a better salary in order to prove his love for Mariam. As Malamud continues to describe Sobel’s apartment he describes the items found in his apartment. “It contained a narrow cot, a low table, and several stacks of books piled haphazardly around on the floor along the wall” (898). Malamud describes in this quote how poor Sobel is and that he cannot afford proper furniture. Yet, the stacks of books suggest the bond between Sobel and Mariam. As both Mariam and Sobel later tell Feld, their love of books and communication through them has established a relationship much deeper and more meaningful than one built on material goods. What the father has always held as important does not fit with Mariam’s desires and choices.
Toward the outcome of this short story, Malamud chooses to use epiphany to help Feld get a better insight on Sobel’s life. Sobel has just confessed his love for Mariam, and startling Feld because he feels his only daughter would never love an ugly, middle aged man like Sobel. When Feld sees Sobel’s reaction to his judgment “his teeth were on edge with the pity for the man, and his eyes grew moist” (899). Feld gains an insight into Sobel’s depressing life continued for the love of Mariam. Feld knows that Sobel has given up much to be with Mariam. He responds that Sobel isn’t ugly, but “that what he called ugly was not Sobel but Mariam’s life if she married him”(899).
Feld finally begins to realize that Sobel and Mariam have developed a relationship through the books. As a solution Feld decides that in two years Mariam shall be allowed to make her own decisions and choose whether or not she wants to be with Sobel. He also realizes he can not force his goals and desires on his daughter. Though Feld thinks the answer to a good life is marrying someone prosperous with a formal education, Mariam has her eyes and heart set on someone who understands her soul. Malamud’s use of epiphany exhibit Feld’s insight on Sobel’s life.
Throughout Malamud’s short story, he uses symbolism, setting, and epiphany to help develop the theme for the reader. Just like Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy, Sobel struggles for several years in order to eventually be with Mariam. Even knowing of Feld’s aspirations for Mariam, Sobel continues to share his feelings through the books. By the end of the short story, Feld realizes how far and how much Sobel has sacrificed for his love. In the long run, happiness becomes more important than financial security.
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