Free Study Guide for The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

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Morris' head injury causes him to be laid up in bed for a week. When Morris finally goes back to work and starts to bring the bottles of milk from the curb into the store, he is prevented from falling by Frank Alpine. Frank proceeds to put away the milk. He says that he would like a job working in a grocery. Morris makes some suggestions.

Frank Alpine returns two days later, and again helps to bring the heavy cases of milk bottles into the store. When, the following day, he again helps him, he offers Frank a cup of hot coffee. Frank seems ill at ease, as if something is troubling him. Finally, Frank tells Morris that he was raised in an orphanage.

Frank asks Morris about his bandages and, when he tells him about the robbery, Frank suggests that the robbers should die. Then, he asks if Morris is Jewish. When Morris affirms that he is, Frank tells him that he has always liked Jews.

As their conversation continues, Frank asks about Morris's offspring. Morris tells him about Ephraim, his son who died from an ear infection. He mentions that he also has a daughter and learns that Frank is already aware of her.

After Ida comes downstairs, Frank tries unsuccessfully to get them to allow him to work for a few weeks for nothing, just to learn the business. Then, he leaves.

The scene shifts to Helen Bober and Louis Karp. Because she is bored, he talks her into spending some time with him. They go to Coney Island. The boardwalk causes Helen to think back to the time when she and her friends, Louis included, were carefree. She tells him that she wants an education. He tells her that he would like to marry her. She tells him "No." She denies that she declined because their fathers don't get along. After he drops her off at the front of the store, she asks herself for what exactly she is saving herself.

The next morning, there is a quart of milk missing and two rolls are unaccounted for. This continues until one night Morris gets the idea of checking to see if anyone is in the store after it is closed and discovers Frank Alpine. When Frank confesses that he stole the rolls and milk, Morris feeds him a meal. He and Ida argue about what to do with Frank. Frank stays overnight.

The next morning, Morris attempts to bring into the store the milk cases, but passes out and is rescued by Frank, who slides into the role of grocer more quickly than the ambulance comes.


As this chapter begins, Morris has been injured, and, as the chapter ends, he is again injured.

Before Frank tells Morris that he was raised in an orphanage, he seems upset, as though he is trying to say something difficult. But is his background as an orphan really what caused him to be stressed? Or is there a different kind of information that he would like to give Morris? Perhaps he would like to get the fact that he was one of the robbers out into the open.

Frank tells Morris things about himself. Unfortunately, Morris has no way of verifying whether any of it is true. See note on fifth chapter for an example of Frank contradicting himself.

References to Saint Francis appear here for the first of many times. He is almost a character. But, of course, he is not. Who he is and how he acted is described in various parts of the story. Knowing about St. Francis helps the reader to understand Frank Alpine.

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The Assistant by Bernard Malamud: Free Online Study Guide
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