Free Study Guide for The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

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Ida finds out that Morris must stay in bed for two weeks or risk the consequences of getting up too soon. Then, she sees a spruced-up Frank. Frank shows her all the cash in the cash register. Ida decides to let Frank stay and work "until tomorrow." She even says that he can sleep on the couch as her husband suggested.

The following day "until tomorrow" changes to "ten days or so." When Ida changes the milk order to cartons, not glass, Frank heartily approves.

Frank is content in the store. To him it is much better than alternatives.

Ida gives Frank time off each evening. During the time he is gone, Helen comes down for dinner. He would prefer working to missing the chance to see Helen, but Ida gives him no choice.

Ida finds that Frank is making five to seven dollars more each day for the store. She decides to pay him five dollars wages each week. While Frank does bring in more than Morris was bringing in in the days before Frank arrived, he also skims off some for himself. Ida, of course, does not know this.

Frank rationalizes taking money from the store. The store benefits from his presence, he tells himself. But, he is still ambivalent about what he is doing. He has two sides, one bad and one good. One side is somewhat remorseful at the same time that the other side accepts the rationalization. His remorse causes him to scratch the backs of his hands.

Frank sets out to find Ward Minogue. Frank recalls the night of the robbery. When Ward and himself could not rob Karp, they decided to rob Bober. At the time of the robbery, Frank knew of no meaningful difference between the two men, so he was agreeable with the change of target. Now, Frank finds Ward in a poolroom. He asks for his gun back. He wants to throw it into the river where it will never be found. Frank is afraid that, even though he bought it through a fence, it could be traced if Ward lost it. Ward wants to try again to rob his original target, Karp, in retaliation for the way he treated him as a child. Frank talks him out of it, and refuses to take part in any future robbery. Ward tells him that he knows what he has been up to at the grocery store. Ward disapproves. Frank doesn't succeed in getting back the gun.

Later, when Ida is preparing to close for the night, Helen mentions that she plans to take a bath. With this knowledge, Frank, after a short internal struggle, climbs into the dumbwaiter shaft and manages to peep at Helen as she is naked in the bathroom.


In this chapter, we learn for sure what we may have suspected. Frank was one of the robbers. And, Ward Minogue was the other.

Some readers will feel a connection to Frank Alpine. They will see him as someone similar to themselves. Most, if not all, of us are a mixture of good and bad, in varying proportions.

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