Free Study Guide for The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

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The Assistant

Bernard Malamud

Date Published

Meaning of the Title
Refers to Frank Alpine, who works in the grocery store as an assistant to Morris Bober

Brooklyn, NY, mostly in a small grocery store

Novel, adult fiction

That part of Frank Alpine that wants to be good, and Morris Bober

The part of Frank Alpine that is not good


Point of View
Limited omniscient

Past tense

Rising Action
The rising action occurs between the first chapter and the sixth chapter. In these chapters Frank becomes close to Morris and to Helen. He helps run the store while Morris is laid up. He asks very little in return, although he does take a few dollars with the plan to repay it. Frank worries about telling Morris about his part in the robbery. He watches Helen, both through the store window and by spying on her as she disrobes for her bath. He gets to know her on walks from the library.

Morris suspects that Frank is stealing from him, but cannot be sure. Then he decides that, if Frank is stealing, it is because he doesn't pay him enough. He decides to pay Frank more.

The exposition occurs in the first chapter, in which we enter the grocery store and taste life as it is lived there.

The exposition ends with the inciting moment, the robbery of Morris Bober by Frank Alpine and Ward Minogue.

The climax occurs in the sixth chapter in a series of connected events. The chain reaction starts when Julius Karp tells Morris that Frank is not the reason that his business has increased. Morris tells Frank to leave. Later that night, in a flood of emotion, Frank rapes Helen.

After the death of Morris, Frank assumes the role of Morris, both in operating the grocery store and in watching over Ida and Helen.

Major Theme
The struggle toward realization of what one can be

Minor Themes
The variations in father-son relationships; Contrast between attainment of the American Dream and success


The author uses Yiddish words as well as Yiddish grammar to give conversations an authentic immigrant flavor.

Here is a sampling of some of the words that he uses, along with translations:

Gesheft - business

Gelt - money

Goy - a person who is not Jewish

Goyim - a group of people who are not Jewish

Landsman - countryman, neighbor from “the old country”

Landsleit - plural of landsman

Parnusseh - livelihood

Schnapps - whiskey

Shikse - non-Jewish girl

Trayfe - not kosher

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