Easy Lit Notes website uses cookies to ensure that you get the best possible experience while you are visiting our site. We use cookies to help analyze our web traffic and to monetize our website. For More Info, please visit our Cookie Policy.

February 2, 2012

My Son the Murderer by Bernard Malamud- Summary

My Son the Murderer by Bernard Malamud- Summary

"My Son the Murderer" is a tour de force of pathos and betrayal; one of the most memorable, as it is surely one of the most succinct, testimonies to the generational dissonances of the 1960's in an America at war with Vietnam" (504). Leo is having difficulty relating to his son, Harry. Leo is 59 years old, and Harry is 22 (fresh out of college). The story takes place in February. There is an alternating narrator, sometimes it's the father and other times it is the son.

Leo is worried about his son, so he is constantly watching over Harry. Harry feels his father's presence hovering from the time he wakes in the morning until he goes to sleep at night. His father stands outside of his bedroom door, listening. Harry is silent as he goes about his day. He looks in the mirror with his eyes closed. He is lonely. Leo feels like his son is a stranger, because he will not let Leo into his inner world.

Harry opens his bedroom to find his father standing there, and asks him why he isn't at work. Leo took his vacation early that year, because he was so worried about his son. It is winter. Harry shouts at his father, "Why are you always spying on me?" (505). Leo goes away, but creeps back to his post after a while. Leo hopes that Harry will write him a letter one day, telling him everything. Harry is a prisoner of his own making. Leo works as at the post office as a clerk at the stamps window.

Leo's wife spends the days with her daughter, who is 31 years old, because she is having a bad pregnancy. She has high blood pressure, and her doctor has ordered her to be on bed rest. Leo's wife is worried that there is something really wrong with Harry. Since Harry graduated college the previous summer, he has become a recluse. He mostly stays in his room with the door shut, but once in a while he will go for a walk. If you ask him about the walk, he will give a snippy remark. Harry's mother advised him to get a job, because it will make him feel better. He looked for work a couple of times, but always turned down an offer of employment. He says that it isn't that doesn't want to work, he just feels bad. His parents would ask if it was his health, but he would just say he didn't want to talk about it. His mother suggested that he take something that was temporary. To which Harry replied that everything was temporary.

Harry watches the war on the news every day. Harry says that "It's a big burning war on a small screen. It rains bombs and the flames go higher. Sometimes I lean over and touch the war with the flat of my hand. I wait for my hand to die" (506). He expects to be drafted, but doesn't worry about it; he plans to flee the U.S. if it happens.

Worrying about Harry is the worst kind of torture. When you worry about yourself you know what your're worrying about, but when it is someone else you have no idea what is going through their mind. Leo tries to reminisce with Harry about when Harry was a little boy, but Harry doesn't want to think about that. Leo misses the day when they were able to share their love with one another. Leo asks Harry if he wants an egg, he says no. Leo asks him what he does want, and Harry puts on his coat and goes for a walk down Ocean Parkway. Leo follows Harry down the street, which infuriates Harry. When he reached the corner of Avenue X, Harry crossed the street and went home; Leo followed. Harry pretended his father wasn't there. When Leo got home Harry was already in his room. Leo got the mail. Leo looked for a letter written by Harry to his father; there wasn't one. There were two letters for Harry. Leo took the letter from the draft-board up to his son. Leo asked Harry if he wanted him to open it for him. Harry said no, upset by his father's invasion of his privacy. Leo asked Harry if he wrote the draft-board another letter and Harry said it was none of his business. Leo went down to the kitchen. Leo opened the second letter, intending to re-glue it and stick it back in the mailbox for his wife to find when she came home. It was a letter from a girl asking Harry to return some books that he had borrowed from her that were very important to her. Harry came down stair while Leo was reading the letter, and Harry could tell by the ashamed look on his father's face that the letter was for Harry. Harry tore the letter out of Leo's hands, and told him that he "ought to murder [him] the way [he spies] on me" (509). Harry read his letter then tore it up. Harry threatened his father with murder again then left the house.

Leo went upstairs and searched his son's room. He found a letter written to Edith telling that if she writes him another letter he will murder her. Leo put on his hat and coat and ran after his son. He followed half a block behind Harry. Harry went to Coney Island Avenue and boarded a trolley bus. Leo had to wait fifteen minutes until the next one came along. Coney Island was deserted. Leo finally found his son down at shore, standing with his feet in the water. Leo ran towards his son. Leo apologizes for reading his letter. Harry says nothing. Leo tells Harry that he is scared. Harry says nothing. The wind blew Leo's hat off of his head, so Leo chased it all around until finally he caught it. Leo returned to his son, crying and out of breath. Leo concludes that his son is the type of man that is just lonely, nothing will ever change. Leo tells Harry that life is hard for everyone; the only alternative is death, but you can't do anything if you are dead. It is better to live. Leo begs Harry to come home. Harry ignores his father. After a while Leo leaves Harry and goes home. The wind blew Leo's hat off of his head again and rolled down the shore.

"My father listens in the hallway. He follows me in the street. We meet at the edge of the water. He runs after his hat. My son stands with his feet in the ocean" (510).


Malamud, Bernard. "My Son the Murderer." The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. New York: Oxford UP, 1992. 504-10.