Malamud, Bernard. "My Son the Murderer".
The story is set in New York City in 1960s, during the Vietnam conflict. The fifty-nine-year-old Leo takes his vacation from his job in the post office because he is worried for his son Harry. Harry, aged twenty-two, graduated from college some six months ago but he does not care to find himself any job. He spends his time lying on the bed, taking walks, and watching the war on TV from day to day. He does not talk to his father about what he feels or what he wants. He expects to be drafted but he intends to avoid it by running away to Canada. Harry’s sister, nine years his senior, expects her fourth child and has a bad pregnancy. Her mother spends with her every day to help her with the children and seems to be quite content that she does not have to confront her son.
Leo stalks Harry and tries to find out what is wrong with him. He hopes that Harry will write him a letter one day to explain himself. Leo follows Harry on his walks, he searches his room. He even opens his letter, an innocent note from a girl asking Harry to return the books he borrowed from her. Harry catches him reading it and shouts that he will kill him. He then leaves the house and Leo follows after him. He finds Harry on Coney Island, standing on the beach with his feet in the water despite the chilly weather. He tries to appeal to Harry, reminding him of the times when he was a boy happy with his father, and assures him of his love. Harry does not respond and keeps on standing in the water.
The story is highly condensed, there is hardly any superfluous information, but the little information provided is carefully chosen and ordered so that it manages to create a very powerful effect. Within just few pages the story succeeds in building up the tense atmosphere of a deepening conflict between the desperate father and the frustrated son against the background of the ongoing Vietnam war. The story is intricately structured, it uses shifting points of view so that in turns both the consciousness of the father and the consciousness of the son are exposed. This device reinforces the sense of tragic estrangement of the father and his child.
The father, an elderly man, has the advantage of age and experience and so manages to take a mature attitude to the fact of war. He does not worry about it more than necessary because he realizes that even though life is hard, it is better than death. Harry is still a young man who fails to come to terms with the war he watches raging on TV and with the threat of being drafted. He is frightened of the world and he does not know how to beat his fear. He probably does not even know how to explain what he feels, therefore he responds to his father’s desperate pleads only with a stubborn silence.
AuthorMalamud, Bernard. (1914 - 1986).
Full Title"My Son the Murderer".
First PublishedIn: Esquire, 1968.
Malamud, Bernard. ‘My Son the Murderer’. The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. 504-10.