Free Study Guide for The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

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The next morning, Morris looks at a handbill announcing the opening sale of the Norwegians' grocery. This is confirmation of the bad news that Morris received from Karp. Morris tells Ida the real reason that they have been doing well and what they can expect in the near future. He tells her that Frank is gone. She wants an explanation. The fact that she wanted him gone is not an explanation. Then they discuss Helen. Does she know? Morris did not tell her, but she went to work very early. He tells Ida about the new Norwegian grocers who plan to replace Schmitz. She tries to get him to stop worrying. Finally, he goes upstairs.

When Morris tries to sleep, it is too cold. He turns on the gas and gets a match to light the heater, but goes to bed instead of lighting it.

Frank has had a fitful night's sleep, as did Helen. Both are deeply affected by what has happened. Frank thinks that he now stinks.

Frank thinks about last night and wants to be forgiven. He reviews last night in his head. He had gone to the park and waited for Helen. When she did not come, he got hungry and left to get a pizza, but stopped in a bar instead. When he returned to the park and saw what was happening, he almost killed Ward. When Helen was in his arms, proclaiming her love for him, he realized that he would soon lose what he had just gained because of what had transpired between him and her father. Then, when Helen said "No," and he knew that there would not be a next time, he proceeded anyway, thinking that she would relent. She should have known that he loved her, he thought.

When Nick Fuso knocks on his door and asks him if he smells something, Frank is offended. But Nick is referring to the smell of gas in the hallway. They force their way into the Bobers' apartment. Frank pulls Morris out of bed and into the living room. Nick turns off the bedroom radiator so no more gas can enter the apartment. He opens all the windows to let the gas out. Meanwhile, Frank works on reviving Morris. Ida comes upstairs and then Helen. While looking at Frank, Morris thanks those who saved him. When things settle down, Frank works in the store, but then Ida closes the store. Later in the day, after developing a fever, Morris is taken by ambulance to a hospital.

The following day, Frank, wanting to open the grocery, but not wanting to ask for the key, breaks into the store and opens it. He keeps it open all day without Ida and Helen finding out because they spend the day and evening at the hospital with Morris. The next morning, Monday, Ida goes downstairs to put a sign on the door explaining why the store will be closed. But, she finds Frank there with the grocery already open for business. She is angry at this. But, he convinces her to let him stay until Morris gets better. Because she really has no choice, she agrees, but he must leave Helen alone.

The Norwegians, Taast and Pederson, open with specials that draw Morris's customers away. But, Frank rationalizes that they cannot have such low prices for long. The store does not take in as much as previously. Frank takes money out of his savings and adds it to the cash register, a little at a time, to minimize the appearance of loss.

After ten days, Morris comes home. Frank frets about what to say to Morris to appease him so that Morris will let him stay. Instead of saying anything, Frank postpones a visit to him upstairs.

Frank also thinks a lot about Helen. He tries to apologize to her but is told that he makes her ill. Then, she acts like he is invisible.

Frank paints the store, one section at a time. He also replaces some of the shelving. But, he notices no increase in the number of customers.

Ida is calmed by the fact that Helen is obviously no longer interested in Frank, but she is concerned because Helen shows no interest in any man.

Frank cuts down on expenses, using less gas and having the telephone removed. He continues to obsess about Helen.

Helen, too, suffers from her memories. She decides not to attend Betty's wedding.

Frank decides to collect some money that Carl, the Swedish painter, owes to Morris. He spots Carl, coming out of Karp's liquor store, and follows him home. Later he goes to his home to collect what is owed. While he waits for Carl to wake up he has an opportunity to observe Carl's wife and four children at dinnertime. His heart goes out to them and he leaves without talking to Carl. He heads to his place and gets his last three dollars. As he heads over to Carl's place with the money, he encounters Ward Minogue. He looks unhealthy. Ward wants to exchange Frank's gun that Ward has for some cash. Frank gives him the three dollars, takes the gun, and gets rid of it.

Interested in Jews, Frank goes to the library and gets a book about them. He reads some of the book, but cannot finish it.

Frank spies on the Norwegians and finds that their shelves are full and their store is brightly lit.

Frank gets a job at the Coffee Pot. He is a counterman and, at times, a dishwasher. He works when he should be sleeping, but manages to catch up on his sleep during the day in the grocery because there are so few customers now. He puts his thirty-five dollar weekly salary into the cash register.

Frank's misery continues. He thinks of things that he wants to say, but does not say them. He suffers from his non-existence in Helen's eyes. He thinks often of leaving, but will not let himself.

Frank makes a wood carving. It is his first one. It is of a bird. Then he carves a rose. He leaves it for Helen. She takes it, but discards it by the curb, where he finds it.


In this chapter, we read Frank's version of what led up to the rape. While Frank's guilt is not decreased by the information, our understanding of him is increased, which is a good thing.

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The Assistant by Bernard Malamud - Free Online Study Guide
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