The Assistant by Bernard Malamud
It was published in 1957 and it is the second novel of Bernard Malamud. The novel is set in Brooklyn, New York.
The novel explores the situation of the first and second generations of Americans in the early 1950s.
The novel is about an immigrant grocer Morris Bober, who lives and works in Brooklyn with his wife Ida Bober. He emigrated from Russia in his teenage.
Morris Bober’s grocery has fallen on hard times because a new store has opened across the street and their customers are moving to that store. Morris Bobber is having difficulty running his shop now.
Bobers also depend on their daughter Helen Bober who works as a secretary.
As the play opens, we find that two men rob the grocery shop of Morris and knock him down. He was badly injured.
Following his injury, a man named Frank Alpine arrives in their neighborhood. Frank has come to start his life again. He arrived from the west coast. When Morris reopens the store, Frank appears each morning to help him drag in the heavy milk crates.
Frank asks if Morris would let Frank work for free so that Frank could learn the trade. Morris rejects the offer and Frank disappears soon. After some time, Morris started doubting that his things are missing and later observed that a crate of milk and two rolls are stolen from his deliveries each morning. After a week Morris alerts the police because he could not trace the culprit.
The next day, Morris finds Frank sleeping in the cellar. Frank admits that he stole milk and the rolls as he was starving. Morris provides him with food and allows him to stay the night at the store. The next morning, Morris had a little accident when he slips while dragging the milk crates but thankfully Frank was there to rescue him. As he was injured, Frank took his job and started working in the grocery store.
Morris took about two weeks to recover from the injury. During those two weeks, Frank brought in much more money than Morris ever could.
When Morris returned, Frank moved upstairs to a small room in the apartment that was rented by the Fusos, an Italian couple. Realizing that their business is now blooming, Morris wanted to pay Frank for all he did. However, Frank was guilty because he was already stealing money from the store which Morris was unaware of and we also come to know that it was actually Frank, with Ward Minogue, a local detective’s son who robbed the grocery store.
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With time, Frank’s feelings for Helen, the daughter of Morris Bober, grew and she was already being courted by the sons of two Jews in the neighborhood, both young men with good prospects. But her dream for better life includes true love. She also aspires to higher education. She has set aside her own desires to supplement her family’s meager income from the store.
Helen recently lost her virginity to Nat Pearl, a Jewish boy who courted her. However, she soon distanced herself from him when she came to know his main motive was to have sex with her. The other Jewish boy Louis Karp suggested she marry him, but she refused.
Frank thought it to be the best time to get close to Helen and due to their similar interest in books, they started spending much time together and their meetings grow into physical intimacy. But they didn’t reach the intercourse part as Helen was still not sure of her feelings towards him.
Morris was happy to spend time with Frank and enjoyed sharing stories with him. Morris then suspected that Frank might be stealing from him due to the unequal revenue.
He kept a close eye on Frank and at the same time, Frank, overcome by his guilty conscience, decides to repay all the money he has stolen. He kept back 6 dollars in the register but later when he realized he himself needs money, he steals a dollar back. Morris caught him red-handed which broke his heart as he was getting fond of him. He then asked Frank to leave.
On the same night, Helen has finally understood that she is in love with Frank and is ready to take their relationship to the next level. She went to meet him and when she reaches the park, Ward Minogue, drunk, tries to rape her. Luckily, she was saved by Frank on time but his sudden action worsened the situation. He himself tries to rape her as he was sure they would be separated.
Helen curses Frank and refuses to see him again. Frank is now filled with remorse and thinks of contemplating ways to make things up to her whenever he gets the opportunity, he apologizes to Helen.
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The very next day, Morris, who was asleep in his apartment, inhales gas from a radiator that he failed to light, which almost killed him. It was Frank again with Nick Fuso who came to rescue him. Morris had to go to the hospital as he had got pneumonia.
During the time when Morris is sick in the hospital, Frank opened the store and worked hard. However, the business was not flourishing now as two Norwegians just reopened the competing grocery store, and this led to all the customers going there.
Frank gave up all his savings and works even harder at a different job all night so that the grocery store stays in business. However, even after working this hard for them, Frank had to leave with Morris’ return.
Morris decided to look for work somewhere else to save the business and the store but is unsuccessful. One night, Morris encounters a mysterious person who suggests and offers to light up his store and this would provide him with the insurance money but he refused to do so. Later he almost burns himself when he decided to put fire in his own store. It was again Frank who helped him but he made him leave again.
One night, Ward Minogue stole liquor from Karp’s store and in his drunk state, sets the store on fire, burning the store to flames. The next day, Karp who now has the insurance money offers to buy Morris Bober’s store and groceries so that he could reopen his. Morris is happy with the news and goes out to shovel snow for the pedestrians.
However, forgetting his worse condition before, he didn’t remember to wear his coat and caught pneumonia which lead to his death in just three days. In this tough time, Frank reopens the store and tries hard to keep it afloat. He is also determined to pay for Helen to attend college and Helen again befriends Frank. Frank is now a completely changed person and shows the honest qualities of Morris Bober.
Towards the end, Frank visits the hospital to get himself circumcised and becomes a Jew. The Frank at the beginning of the story is totally different from the one he becomes at the end and we can say that it was Morris Bober’s influence on him that changed him.
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The Assistant is an inspiring story by Malamud and there are many others similar to it on our page. You can also tell us about other novel summaries you require and we will definitely provide you with the same.