The Color Black
In The Fixer, the color black appears repeatedly, as an ominous motif signifying Yakov’s ill-starred future. When Yakov leaves the shtetl, night comes upon him and he is surrounded by a “black sea full of strange voices,” a mix of his own Yiddish superstitions and the non-Jewish voices of the world he is about to enter in Kiev. Black is the color on the buttons worn by The Black Hundreds, the anti-Semitic organization to which Nikolai Lebedev—the man Yakov saves from dying in the snow—belongs. Finding Nikolai appears to be a stroke of luck for Yakov, but instead it turns out to be the worst of luck, for the relationship places Yakov in just the right place to be accused of committing a murder. The Hasid that Yakov also helps carries a black satchel—another omen that Yakov is, under the guise of goodness, about to make another fateful mistake when he takes the man into his apartment. Marfa Golov, when she first greets the officials at her house, dons a hat decorated with cherries, but to attend them to the cave where her son was found, she covers her head with a “coarse black shawl.” Father Anastasy, the priest out to crucify Yakov and all Jews, carries a black umbrella that makes him appear even larger than he is. Both of these characters are responsible for convincing others that Yakov is guilty and determining his future. As Yakov leaves the prison after three years to go to his trial, he looks to the sky for an omen that will tell him how his trial will turn out: “A black bird flew out of the sky. Crow? Hawk? Or the black egg of a black eagle falling towards the carriage? If it isn’t that what is it? If it’s a bomb, thought Yakov, what can I do?” A bomb indeed does explode near his carriage, but Yakov escapes alive. However, readers do not get to know how his trial comes out.
To underscore the fact that it is Yakov, rather than another Jew, who is arrested and charged with murder, events occur that signify or foreshadow Yakov’s bad luck. He is, it seems, a victim of circumstances, of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That this tendency might lead him to misfortune is first foreshadowed when the wheels break off the wagon with which he is escaping from the shtetl. Right before this happens, Yakov picks up an old pilgrim Christian woman (dressed in black), who blesses him, which he considers ill luck. Soon after, the first wheel breaks. When Aaron Latke tells Yakov to not give up hope and to go seek his luck, Yakov almost immediately comes upon Nikolai Ledebev in the snow—a meeting that proves to be very bad luck indeed. If Yakov had never met Nikolai, he might never have been in the wrong place at the wrong time when Russians were seeking a Jew to arrest. Near the end of the novel, however, it is not just Yakov who is subject to bad luck. When Kogin defend Yakov from the Deputy Warden, he ends up dead. And the young Cossack rider escorting Yakov’s carriage to the courthouse is unlucky enough to have his foot blown off by the bomb that goes off. That bad luck can happen to others further underscores the idea that bad luck is bad fate, and even the most deserving of good luck often find bad luck instead.
The Good Samaritan
The Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10: 25-37, functions as another motif in the novel. Yakov repeatedly tries to act with kindness towards others, just as the Good Samaritan helped a man whom Christians and others had ignored in his time of need. Yakov, with no prejudice as to whether he is helping a Christian or a Jew, a woman or a man, helps others in need because they are in need. He acts with true humanity. However, every time he helps someone (or refuses to harm someone) —the pilgrim woman, Nikolai, Nikolai’s daughter, the Hasid—Yakov finds that his kindesses backfire. Instead, they are used as false evidence to convict him. That Yakov’s good intentions are not rewarded further stresses the novel’s premise that no Jew, no matter how good, will be rewarded in a corrupt state. Each time the Good Samaritin motif occurs, Yakov suffers.
Yakov and Christ
Events from the life of Christ also function as an ironic motif throughout the novel. Like Christ, Yakov is being imprisoned and maltreated because of his religious affiliations. Ironically, however, Yakov comes to believe in no God, and he comes to see that his death, unlike Christ’s, may not save his people but instead bring them to more harm. He is a scapegoat, just as Christ was the Jews’ scapegoat. Of all the people in the novel, Yakov acts the most like a Christian in his kindness towards others, in his intent to be nonpolitical, in his suffering as a symbol of his religion. Nikolai spouts Biblical verses, yet he is the first to condemn Yakov when he is arrested. Yakov does not sleep with pitiful Lena, yet she, too, turns on him. Ironically, it is Yakov’s, a Jew’s, reading aloud of the New Testament to Kogin that changes Kogin and brings him to defend Yakov with his life. It is Zhitnyak, the other guard, who slips Yakov the New Testament, then is killed for taking pity on Yakov and letting Shmuel in to see him. Yakov, like Christ, inspires others to act humanely, yet he himself is further persecuted for these acts. When Yakov finds it in his heart to forgive Raisl, again he acts with humanity. Yet no Christians can forgive Yakov for being a Jew.