Free Study Guide for The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

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Frank has returned to the store to work and live in the back of the store. He continues to work at the Coffee Pot and put his thirty-five dollars weekly wages into the cash register.

Besides the store, Ida survives on the rent that Nick Fuso pays her and on Helen's salary plus income from sewing epaulettes on uniforms. These are supplied by a landsman of Morris. For this work she receives twenty-eight or thirty dollars per month.

Helen is still not ready to forgive Frank. She wants to forget, as best she can, their past. And, Frank still craves her forgiveness.

Frank gets a new idea how he might get through to her. He could help her go to college. But, he cannot figure out how he can do this.

One day Frank puts his cooking experience to use. He starts selling sandwiches and soups to workers brought in by a handbill that he pays a kid to distribute to work sites. Later, he sells ravioli and lasagna, then pizza.

One of the Norwegians buys out the other. Pederson buys out Taast. Then, Taast starts closing early, at 7:30, and has fewer specials. Taast tries making and selling pizzas, but they are not as good as Frank's pizzas are.

Frank adds minestrone to his menu.

Frank starts paying Ida ninety dollars per month for rent including use of the store.

Frank's thoughts are again on college for Helen. He makes a careful calculation and decides that he cannot do it, if he has to pay tuition. Possibly, if she goes to a free college, he can manage to cover what she pays Ida and her personal expenses.

Next, his thoughts turn toward the problem of how to tell Helen what he has in mind.

One night Frank sees Helen go by the store in a red dress that is trimmed in black. He makes himself presentable, and follows her, assuming that she went to the library. As he waits outside the library he decides that, if she does not agree, he will leave the store.

Helen is surprised by what Frank says. Lately, she has been rethinking what happened that terrible night and seeing it from a different perspective. She remembers that she wanted to give herself to Frank that very night, before Ward became involved. She would have been willing to do so if not for Ward. But, her answer to Frank regarding his help is still negative. She could not consider it, she says. He proposes that she do it for her father, but she does not understand the connection. He can repay what he owes her father through her, he explains. Letting her father's store put her through college is something that her father would want, Frank tells her. Helen refuses because it cannot happen without Frank. Frank insists that he owes her father. She does not understand why he feels this way.

Frank tries to stop himself, but he cannot. He blurts out the fact that he was one of the robbers. She screams and runs away from him.

Frank continues to operate the grocery. After Christmas, business worsens. Frank has a tough time financially. He has trouble paying the suppliers. But while, at times, others do not get paid, Frank always pays Ida. These payments enable Helen to attend night college.

Frank is always tired. He sleeps between customers both at the Coffee Pot and at the grocery.

Frank worries about Nat and the attention that he pays to Helen. He hears Nat courting Helen in the hall. Worse than hearing their voices is the silence when he imagines that they are necking. Frank is jealous.

The only way that Frank sees Helen is through the window of the grocery.

Frank enters a bad period. He spies on Helen by climbing the air shaft and looking at her when she is naked, like he did earlier. He does this twice. He cheats customers. He short-weights them. And, he short-changes one of them. Then, just as suddenly as he entered the bad period, he leaves it. He stops climbing the air shaft and starts being honest with the customers again.

Helen, on her way home from studying with a girl from her class one night, notices Frank working at the Coffee Pot. At first she has a strange feeling. Then, she turns and sees Frank through the window. He does not see her. It all becomes clear to her what Frank has been doing and for whom he has been doing it.

Later, at home and in bed, she realizes that he truly has changed in his heart.

A week later, Helen approaches Frank and thanks him for his help. He mentions the idea of her going to day college. She declines because he is already working so hard but then promises to think about it. Helen then tells him that she is still using the Shakespeare book that he gave to her.

The following night, Frank hears a verbal fight between Helen and Nat in which Helen slaps Nat.

Frank grows a mustache and finds red hairs in it. Did he get the red from his mother, he wonders.

One morning, while Frank is reading the bible, which he has started doing, he has a thought or day dream in which Saint Francis is in front of the grocery and takes the discarded wooden rose out of the trash and it becomes real. Then, Saint Francis gives the rose to Helen and she takes it even though it is from Frank Alpine.

Frank has himself circumcised and, after Passover, becomes a Jew.


Early in the chapter, Helen wants to make Morris's life meaningful by earning a degree (p. 283). But, later in the chapter (p. 289), when Frank suggests that, by accepting his help and returning to college, she would be doing something for her father, she balks. She cannot do that which she wants to do because it would involve Frank.

There are more references to red in this chapter. Helen is wearing a red dress, trimmed in black, when she goes to the library, and then, runs into Frank afterward. Frank finds red hairs in the mustache that he is growing.

Notice that Frank seems to have become Morris. For verification of this, notice the similarity between what Morris does in the first few pages of the novel and what Frank does in the last few pages. Both feed the old Polish woman early in the morning. Both watch Nick Fuso return from shopping elsewhere. Both fix tea with lemon for the bulb peddler.

There is no conclusion to the courtship of Helen by Frank, but we are led to think that they may possibly end up together.

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