Free Study Guide for The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

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Helen's feelings toward Frank continue to soften. More and more, it is the good side of him that she sees. As she reads the book of Shakespeare that he gave her, she hears his voice uttering the words of the characters. A future that includes Frank is frequently in her thoughts. But, that Frank is the Frank that he could be with her guidance, not Frank as he is now.

Helen and Frank spend more time together. She is now comfortable with him. But, he is not comfortable with the current situation. He wants more from her. On a Friday night, Helen slips a note under the door to Frank's room telling him that, if the Fusos go out, she will go to his room. Frank thinks that, if she does come to his room, they will finally become intimate. And, she does come to his room, but, she stops his advances. He questions why, if she is not a virgin, she refuses. She explains that she wants the next time to be with someone she loves and, while she at times thinks she loves him, she is not sure. Making the situation worse, the Fusos come home and make love in the nearby room.

One afternoon, Detective Minogue brings a man in handcuffs to Morris in the store, wanting to know if Morris can identify him as one of the robbers. But, Morris cannot. There is an awkward moment for Frank, who is there, when the detective asks Frank to tie a handkerchief around the man's face. As the detective finishes, he asks Morris if he has seen his son, Ward. Morris says that he has not seen him. Then the detective turns to Frank and inquires whether Frank knows his son. Frank says that he does not.

That evening, Ward comes to Frank's room. Frank warns him that his father is looking for him. Ward wants some money for liquor. Also, he has a job in mind and wants Frank to join him in pulling it off. He makes a threat about losing Frank's gun with his name on it. Frank gives him eight dollars to get rid of him.

One night Ida follows Helen and sees her kissing Frank in a secluded part of the park. Ida is upset and, when Helen returns home and sees her mother crying, she immediately knows the reason. To appease her mother, Helen agrees to give Nat another chance. When she calls Nat, he wants to meet her the following Friday. Helen already has a date with Frank for that night. But, Helen agrees to meet him on Friday night for her mother's sake.

Ida tells Morris her news about their Helen kissing Frank. Morris doesn't want to hear it. He reminds her that Frank will soon be gone. But, Ida forecasts a tragedy.

On Thursday, the day before Helen's planned date with Nat, Julius Karp pays Morris a visit. Julius wants to do something to get Helen connected with his son, Louis. He begins by asking Morris how his business is. Morris is happy to report that it is good. Karp, bit by bit, manages to tell Morris that Morris's business is good for reasons other than Frank's presence. He tells Morris that soon two Norwegians will give him competition. He starts to suggest that Morris throw Frank out and encourage Helen to take up with Louis. Seeing the mood into which he has put Morris, Karp leaves and returns to his liquor store next door to the grocery.

Morris is very upset. He sleeps fitfully and arises early. He decides to sell the grocery but, even though what he has learned from Karp has turned him against Frank, he decides to keep him on.

Frank comes down to work, planning to return the hundred and forty dollars that, over time, he has taken from the cash register. He also considers telling Morris about his part in the robbery. He wants to be better so that he has a better chance with Helen.

Later in the day, when Ida finally goes upstairs, Frank is able to put six dollars into the cash register. Then, Helen calls him and suggests that they meet after her date with Nat. When he wonders what her reason is, she says that she will explain when she sees him. She has something very nice to tell him. Frank thinks that she is planning to tell him that she is ready to become intimate.

Morris comes into the store, looks into the cash register, and likes what he sees. Frank hangs up and suddenly remembers that he put almost all his money into the register. And, if he meets Helen, he might need some of it.

When a woman enters the grocery, Morris is again wondering if Frank ever steals from him. He decides to do a little spying. While Frank waits on the woman, Morris spies on him. Frank is caught taking a dollar. He tries to make an excuse, but has none that satisfy Morris. Morris gives him fifteen dollars and tells him to leave. Frank cannot change Morris's mind and so he leaves.

Helen is on her date with Nat. In response to his pressure, she asks him if what they did in the past gives him a claim on her future.

After Nat drops her off, Helen hurries to meet Frank, worried because she thinks that he has had to wait for her. When she reaches their meeting spot, she finds that he is not there. Did he leave already, she wonders. In the past he has always waited for her. Surely tonight, when she wants to tell him that she knows that she loves him, he should have waited. She fears that he has had an accident. Her watch tells her that it is past one.

Ward Minogue is there. He talks to her. She becomes afraid, but cannot get away from him. He is all over her and then he isn't. She hears him cry out in pain and realizes that Frank is there, getting rid of Ward for her. She is ecstatic in Frank's arms, until she realizes that she is being raped by Frank.


This is a powerful chapter, the climax of the story. Everything before this has been building to this point and everything after it will be resolving what has happened.

When Ward Minogue leaves Frank's room, he calls him a "kike." That is a disparaging and offensive term used to indicate a person of Jewish religion or descent, according to Webster's College Dictionary. It foreshadows Frank’s later conversion to Judaism.

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The Assistant by Bernard Malamud - Free Online Study Guide
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