Free Study Guide for The Assistant by Bernard Malamud|
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
Days later, Helen notices Frank feeding pigeons and approaches him, bringing up the subject of the gifts once more. Frank agrees to return one if she will keep one. She will keep the book of Shakespeare if he will return the scarf. After the agreement is reached, they go to a movie. As they are walking toward the movie theater, she thinks of her mother. Then she reminds him that she is Jewish. "So what?" is Frank's response. After saying this, he feels good, as if he has overcome a hurdle.
As Helen knows, her mother is worried about the possibility that her daughter might become interested in Frank. She is worried because he is not Jewish. Ida spies on Frank, trying to find out if they are seeing each other secretly. At first only Ida worries, but, she manages to get Morris worried, too.
Frank and Morris have another of their conversations in which Morris teaches Frank what he knows, like a father conversing with his son. The subject is what it means to be Jewish. Morris says that things like eating kosher are not important. What is important is believing in the Jewish Law. Frank mentions that he has never heard of Morris going to the synagogue and that Ida has said that he keeps the store open on Jewish holidays. Morris inserts that he never is open on Yom Kippur. Frank says that other religions have laws about being honest and being good. He tells Morris that what he would really like to know is why Jews suffer so much.
Soon it is Morris' turn to ask questions. What he wants to know is why Frank is asking these questions. Morris is concerned that Frank's interest in Judaism might be prompted by an interest in Helen. Frank skirts the issue by telling him that once, before he knew Morris, he did not really like Jews.
The following day, Morris goes across the street for a haircut. As he is sitting in the barber's chair, he sees customers leaving the store with bags full of groceries. But, when he returns and checks the register, there is not as much money there as he had expected there to be. The possibility that Frank might be stealing from the cash register makes Morris feel ill. Another customer comes in and Morris learns that the cash register is not broken. Over several days, Morris watches Frank carefully, but does not find any discrepancies. Morris tells Frank that from then until summer, when Frank is to leave, he will give him fifteen dollars per week instead of the five plus commission that he has been receiving. Frank argues against the raise, saying that the business cannot afford it. Morris, who knows that Ida would raise a fuss if she found out about the raise, decides to keep it a secret from her.
Helen's ideas about Frank are mixed and easily changed, but, that is also the way Frank really is. Frank is one minute good, one minute not so good. Helen's opinion of Frank is one minute good, one minute not so good.
If you have not read the three books that Helen recommends to Frank, Crime and Punishment, Madame Bovary, and Anna Karenina, you can find reviews of them at the Pink Monkey web site. A review of Don Quixote, the book Nat noticed Helen reading on the subway in the first chapter, and The Idiot, which Helen mentioned that she was reading in the fourth chapter, are also available there.
Notice the frequent mention of the color red. In the fourth chapter, Helen has a red scarf. In this chapter, the ribbons on Frank's gifts to Helen are red as well as the leather cover on the book of plays by Shakespeare. Later in the story, there will be more mentions of the color red.
In the second chapter, Frank told Morris that he always liked Jews (p. 43). In this chapter, he tells Morris that, in the past, he “didn’t have much use for the Jews” (p. 151).
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Johnson, Jane. "TheBestNotes on The Assistant".
. 09 May 2017