Free Study Guide for The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

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Frank Alpine

Frank Alpine is "The Assistant." The story is about how Frank changes from a wannabe gangster to a good human being. The change takes time and is not smooth. Frank takes "two steps forward and one step back," but he finally reaches a worthy goal.

Frank does not achieve his goal by himself. He has help from Morris Bober, who is like a father to him. He also is guided by stories that he heard as a child, an orphan, about the life of Saint Francis.

Frank is not Jewish, a fact that causes Ida Bober to worry about the possibility that he might develop a relationship with her daughter, Helen.

Morris Bober

Morris Bober is the proprietor of a small grocery store in Brooklyn. He was born in Russia and immigrated to America. He is a Jew. Although he does not follow all the rules, he does follow the most important part. He follows the Law.

Morris is a good, honest man who has difficulty understanding that everyone is not as honest as he is.

Morris lost his son years ago. He now develops a father-son relationship with Frank Alpine. It is through his talks with Frank that Frank changes.

Helen Bober

Helen Bober is the twenty-three year old daughter of Morris and Ida Bober. She lives with them. She is not married. She works at Levenspiel's Louisville Panties & Bras. She gives her pay to her father, who gives a little of it back to her. She reads books, but yearns for a "real" education. Slowly, she becomes interested in Frank. At first, she likes the Frank that she imagines him becoming, not the person that he actually is at that time.


This story is based on two medieval legends. One is the life of Saint Francis. Saint Francis is mentioned in several places in The Assistant and there are additional references to him as well. The characters in the second legend upon which this story is based are not mentioned by name like Saint Francis is. That legend is about the Waste Land and the grail knight, Percival, and the Fisher King, who is maimed.

In the Saint Francis legend, Saint Francis is like Frank and Christ is like Morris.

In the other legend, Percival is like Frank and the Fisher King is like Morris. The Waste Land is like the grocery store. The injury that Morris receives in the robbery is the equivalent of the maiming of the Fisher King

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