The story is set in Brooklyn, New York. Most of it is set in Morris Bober's small grocery store.
Morris Bober is an older man, an immigrant, who spends many hours, day after day, in his small grocery store.
Frank Alpine is the person who is "The Assistant." Frank is twenty-five. The first time Frank and Morris Bober meet is when Frank robs Morris. But, Morris does not recognize him when they meet again. Frank starts to work in Morris' store for almost nothing. Frank, like many people, is a complicated combination of good and bad. Frank came from San Francisco. He was an orphan.
Helen Bober is Morris' twenty-three year old daughter. Frank is fascinated by Helen. He feels both love and lust for her. Before the beginning of the story, Helen had a relationship with Nat Pearl. Helen desires a better life, but not the "better life" that Nat would give her. She works at Levenspiel's Louisville Panties & Bras, and gives almost all of her salary to her father and mother. She wants to attend college and enlarge her fund of knowledge. But, she knows that her family needs her income. She reads lots of books and enjoys going to the library.
Ida Bober is the wife of Morris and the mother of Helen. She frequently works in the store, relieving Morris through some of the long hours that the store is open. She wants Morris to sell the store. She worries that Helen might become interested in a man, like Frank, who is not Jewish.
Ephraim Bober was the son of Morris and Ida Bober. He died years ago as a child, but he lives on in the thoughts and memories of his father.
Note: Morris and Frank develop a relationship not unlike that
of a father and son. The following six minor characters are three father-son
Julius Karp is the father of Louis Karp. He owns a liquor store that is located next to Morris' grocery store. He has prospered financially more than Morris has. Like Morris, he is an immigrant.
Louis Karp, the son of Julius, works in his father's store. He is lazy.
Sam Pearl is the father of Nat Pearl. He is married to Goldie Pearl and is also the father of Betsy Pearl. Like Morris Bober and Julius Karp, he is an immigrant. He owns a shop on the same block as Morris and Julius.
Nat Pearl, the son of Sam and Goldie Pearl, is a law student. He has a history with Helen Bober.
Detective Minogue is the father of Ward Minogue. The father and son have an extremely rocky relationship.
Ward Minogue is the son of Detective Minogue. He is a criminal. He was with Frank Alpine when Frank robbed Morris. In fact, the robbery was Ward's idea.
Goldie Pearl is the wife of Sam Pearl and the mother of Nat and Betsy.
Betsy Pearl is the daughter of Sam and Goldie Pearl and the sister of Nat Pearl. She is Helen Bober's friend. She would like to see Helen become close to her brother again.
Nick and Tessie Fuso
Nick and Tessie rent from the Bobers. Later in the story, Frank Alpine rents a room from them. Nick is a mechanic. They are Italian, like Frank is, which gives them something in common with him.
Schmitz is only a neighborhood presence, not an actual character in the story. He is a grocer who opens a grocery store in the neighborhood and takes business away from Morris Bober's store.
Taast and Pederson
Two Norwegian brothers who operate a grocery in the same space that, earlier, Schmitz operated his store. Like Schmitz, they are only a neighborhood presence, not actual characters in the story. Later in the story, Taast operates the store without his brother.
The following characters are minor. They wander into the story and then
Breitbart is a light bulb salesman who has a son.
Al Marcus is a paper bag salesman. He has cancer, but does not want to stop working.
Charlie Sobeloff was once Morris's business partner.