Free Study Guide for The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

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The following evening Ward tries to get liquor from Louis Karp. He is unsuccessful, unable even to hang onto the bottle that he grabs as he runs away from Louis and the liquor store.

Ward is reported to the police. Detective Minogue gets involved. He beats Ward even as Ward tells him that he has diabetes and will get gangrene.

Later Ward breaks into the liquor store and breaks a lot of liquor bottles. Then he lights a match so that he can have a smoke. As Ward throws down the match, it does not go out. Instead, it causes the alcohol on the floor to catch fire and burn. The fire completely engulfs the building. Ward dies.

As firemen work the fire, Julius Karp arrives with his son, Louis. As they approach the scene, Julius collapses.

Morris remembers that he wished this on Karp.

The next day, Morris's feelings of guilt subside as Morris becomes almost envious of Julius because Morris is the one who needed the fire.

Karp pays Morris a visit. He wants to buy the store and the house. Karp can restart his business using Morris's store more quickly than he can if he has to wait for his building to be rebuilt. Karp agrees to Morris's asking price of twenty-five hundred.

Morris decides to shovel snow. Ida does not want him to do it. He waits until he thinks that she is asleep, then goes outside with the shovel. Before he is finished shoveling, Ida discovers what he is doing. By that time he is almost done and he stops.

When he goes to bed, Morris is restless. He thinks of all there is to do during the next days. He awakes in the middle of the night and knows that he is sick.

Three days later, Morris dies in the hospital.

At the funeral there are many friends and acquaintances, including Frank Alpine, who sits behind Nick and Tessie Fuso. When the body is viewed, Frank goes last to see it. He only recognizes the scar on Morris's head.

The rabbi says that Morris was truly a Jew in the ways that matter most.

The rabbi overlooked some things, Helen thinks to herself. The rabbi talked about her father's honesty, but overlooked the fact that his honesty blinded him to the natural dishonesty of other people. The rabbi said that her father was admired, but what was admirable about spending his life in that store? With more courage, he could have been more, she thinks.

After the service, Frank remains alone in the funeral parlor.

In the cemetery, the rabbi prays while the coffin is lowered into the grave. As loose earth is scattered into the grave, Helen adds a rose. Frank, close to the grave, leans over to see the rose and loses his balance, landing on the coffin feet first. Helped out, he thinks that he has ruined the funeral.

When Ida and Helen return to their building, Louis, who is waiting for them, tells them that his father is sick. That is why he was not at the funeral. He adds that the doctor says that his father should retire and, therefore, Julius won't be buying the grocery after all.

As they go upstairs, Ida and Helen hear Frank in the store below.


Helen's assessment of her father is harsh. She thinks that the rabbi overstated her father's goodness. But, she underestimates it.

If death can be said to come at a good time, Morris's death came at a good time. The reason this is so is because he died after making the good agreement with Julius Karp about selling the grocery, but before Karp is stricken and forced to drop the plan to purchase the grocery.

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