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Free Study Guide for The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

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CONFLICT

The conflict in this story centers around as well as inside of Frank Alpine. There are two sides to Frank, a good side and a bad side. Both Morris Bober and the good side of Frank could be thought of as the protagonist. The bad side of Frank could be thought of as the antagonist.

The climax takes place toward the end of the sixth chapter. It begins when Julius Karp tells Morris that the improvement in his business is because Schmitz is keeping his store open fewer hours, not because of anything that Frank has done. Then, Morris observes Frank taking back out some of the money that Frank himself recently put in the till. Later that evening, Frank rapes Helen.

The outcome is that, after Morris dies, Frank takes over the store and becomes a Jew.



SHORT SUMMARY (Synopsis)

Morris Bober's life is centered on his store. He keeps it open long hours, but has not been doing very well financially since Schmitz opened a competing grocery store. Another reason that Morris is not doing well financially is that he never cheats his customers.

One day two thugs rob Morris. One hits him on the head. Soon after that, Frank Alpine, who has come from San Francisco, starts to work in the store for practically nothing. The business improves while Morris recovers from his head injury. Morris is pleased and keeps Frank on. Frank willingly stays and works even though he earns very little there.


Frank keeps a secret from Morris. He does not tell him that he was one of the robbers.

Frank learns that Morris has a daughter who is twenty-three years old. He finds her to be very attractive. But the woman, Helen Bober, does not pay any attention to him. Frank almost becomes obsessed with her.

Morris returns to work too soon and passes out. He has to stay in bed for two weeks. During this time, Frank takes his place in the store. The store’s income continues to increase. When Morris returns to work, he and Frank develop a father-son relationship. Morris teaches Frank the grocery business. He also teaches him how to be a good person.

Frank and Helen slowly develop a relationship after meeting at the library and walking together.

Frank asks Morris about being Jewish. He wants to know what it means to be Jewish. He wants to understand why Jews seem to suffer so much.

Morris begins to suspect that Frank is stealing from the store.

Helen develops a distorted image of Frank. As she becomes attracted to him, she thinks that he has the qualities that she wants in a man.

One night, Ida spies on Helen and Frank. She reports to Morris that they were kissing. Morris reminds Ida that Frank will be leaving soon. Ida predicts tragedy.

One day, Louis Karp tells Morris that Frank is not the reason that his business has improved. The competition has not been open as long as it formerly was. That same day, Frank puts some money into the cash register to give the impression that business is better than it really is.. Helen calls him and wants to meet him later that night. Frank realizes that he might need some of the money that he already put in the cash register. Morris sees Frank taking some of the money back out of the cash register.

As a result of this and of what Karp said earlier in the day regarding there being another reason for the improvement in business, Morris tells Frank that he does not want him to work in the grocery any longer. When Frank goes to meet Helen in the park as they planned, he sees Ward Minogue attacking Helen. Frank gets Ward off of her, but, then in the emotion of the moment, he himself rapes her.

In one day, it seems that Frank's life falls apart. He has no place to live. He has no work. And, Helen wants nothing to do with him.


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