“The Jewbird” Summary: Bernard Malamud Plot Synopsis

“The Jewbird” is a short story by Bernard Malamud that appeared in his 1963 collection Idiots First. It’s about a crow who claims to be a Jewbird that flies into a family’s apartment looking for refuge and charity. Here’s a summary of “The Jewbird”.

“The Jewbird” Summary

A skinny, bedraggled crow flies through the open kitchen window of a top-floor apartment on First Avenue near the lower East River. It lands on the kitchen table where Harry Cohen, a frozen foods salesman, is having supper with his wife, Edie, and his young son, Maurie.

Harry is upset and swats at it. The bird perches on top of the kitchen door, exclaiming on the violence. They’re surprised the bird can talk. It asks for some food. It’s fleeing from anti-Semitic birds—it’s a Jewbird and recites some prayers to prove it.

The Jewbird, Schwartz, repeats his request for food. Edie goes to get him some marinated herring and rye bread. Harry wants him to eat on the balcony and then fly away. Schwartz is looking for charity and doesn’t have a destination in mind. Harry lets him stay the night.

The Jewbird SummaryBernard Malamud Plot Synopsis
“The Jewbird” Summary

The next morning, Maurie cries when his father orders Schwartz to leave, so he’s allowed to stay while Maurie’s off from school. Edie gets him a new birdhouse for the balcony. Harry is suspicious of Schwartz and is watching him.

Schwartz would prefer the main house but he’s thankful. He has a few other preferences too. He can’t eat the dried corn Harry brings home because of his digestion.

When school starts in September, Schwartz stays while Maurie adjusts. Schwartz is let inside for a while at night and he oversees Maurie’s homework and violin practice. Maurie improves in both. Harry is thinking college for his son, but Schwartz thinks a trade. Harry continues to be annoyed.

Schwartz gains a few ounces but still looks unkempt. He tries to stay out of Harry’s way but one night while Edie’s out, they argue. Harry complains of Schwartz’s smell, his snoring and his freeloading. Schwartz defends himself against the charges. It escalates and Harry is about to lunge at Schwartz when Maurie enters the room.

Schwartz is put off by the quarrel. It affects his sleep. He stays in the birdhouse a lot. He falls asleep during Maurie’s lessons. Edie notices his unhappiness. She suggests smoothing things over with her husband by improving something that bothers him, like taking a bath for the smell. Schwartz makes excuses.

In late November, Schwartz freezes out on the balcony and it affects his rheumatism. Edie would let him in during the day when everyone’s out, but Schwartz doesn’t want to ask.

Harry tells Schwartz to leave on his migration but he refuses.

Harry fights back by harassing Schwartz—he mixes cat food in with the herring, pops paper bags while he sleeps, and gets Maurie a pet cat. Schwartz fears for his life when he’s inside and stays high.

He doesn’t want to leave, so he puts up with everything for weeks. Things come to a head when Harry’s mother dies and Maurie gets a zero on a math test. When they’re alone, Harry chases Schwartz with a broom. He grabs the bird by the legs and swings him around. Schwartz bites onto Harry’s nose. Harry eventually flings him outside, where Schwartz falls to the street. He throws the birdhouse and feeder down after him.

In the spring, thinking of Schwartz, Maurie walks around the neighborhood. He finds a dead black bird in a lot near the river, wings broken, neck twisted and eyes plucked out. Edie later says that anti-Semites did it.

I hope this summary of “The Jewbird” by Bernard Malamud was helpful.