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The Assistant by Bernard Malamud-Free Online Study Guide/Summary Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY / ANALYSIS FOR THE ASSISTANT

CHAPTER FOUR

Summary

Two weeks after the accident Morris is ready to return to work. But, he doesn't want to let Frank go like Ida does. After talking it over with Nick and Tessie Fuso, Morris has Frank move into a small room that the Fusos formerly used for storage. Frank has to share the bathroom facilities with the Fusos. Ida extracts a promise from Morris that he will send Frank away before the summer.

The time that follows is good for Morris. He and his assistant share reminiscences about their pasts.

Frank tells Morris about the time before he came to New York. He grew up in Oakland and San Francisco. When he had had enough of the foster home in which he lived, he had taken off on his own.

In turn, Morris tells Frank about his younger days. Morris came to America to avoid conscription into the army.


Morris teaches Frank about the grocery business. As he tells him about past ways of doing things, Morris mentions how some grocers used to cheat. When Frank want to know why Morris doesn't do some of the dishonest things that he describes, Morris tells him that an honest man sleeps better. Frank seems to agree, but Frank continues to steal.

Frank is a mixture of emotions, thoughts and ideas. Some days he feels that he earns the right to take money from the business because he is the reason that the business is making more money than it did. Other days he feels badly about pocketing some of what he takes in. Some days he is tense and nervous. Other days he is relaxed and gentle. Still other days, he is unhappy with the way things are. He marvels at how Morris can live the life that he does. Frank explains Morris to himself by remembering that Morris is a Jew. Al Marcus and Breitbart are two other examples of Jews and their propensity for suffering. Al Marcus continues to work even though he has cancer. Breitbart goes from store to store selling light bulbs to earn enough to support himself and his son. In the past, Breitbart's brother ran off with the money from their business and Breitbart's wife. For a while after that, things were tough for father and son, but now they scrape by.

Around this time, Helen yearns for Nat. Even though she has not seen him since the day on the subway, she dreams about him every night. Scratching out each day on the calendar gives Helen a perverse satisfaction.

Frank is constantly aware of Helen, even though they say very little to each other. He watches her when he can. He wishes that he could see her without Ida being nearby, but that does not happen.

Frank thinks that he found a solution to the problem he is having connecting with Helen. He decides to tell all to Morris. After the air is cleared and he is forgiven, their relationship can move forward. And, it will be a real relationship. It will not be based on misinformation. But, his attempt to tell Morris what he has done flops. In Franks mind, it is more a postponement than a failure. When he finally tells Morris, he will first soften him up with additional information about his sad youth.

As Frank mulls over his past life, he remembers the time when he felt that he understood his situation. He reached the realization that he was really important. and meant for better things. It became clear to him that he should embark on a life of crime in order to change his luck. This happened shortly before he came to New York and met Ward Minogue. The robbery of the grocery store was the beginning and end of his life of crime.

Now, Frank thinks that his life will improve if he manages to do the right thing. Telling Helen what he did would be the right thing. Shortly, he labels that idea “another of his hopped-up dreams." He does not know what to do.

After Christmas, Frank and Helen are at the library at the same time. Frank guessed that she would be there and is pleased that she is. When she leaves, Frank also leaves and hurriedly catches up with her. Their conversation is halting at first. She remembers her mother's opinions about non-Jewish men. Her mother would not approve of this meeting, Helen is certain. Their conversation becomes easier as Frank talks about the subject of the book he was reading at the library.

The book was about Saint Francis. Frank relates to her what he knows about the time Saint Francis made snow angels as a pretend family for himself. Making the snow angels made Saint Francis, who had been worrying whether he had done the right thing by becoming a monk, feel better. Helen sees Frank in a new light and is touched. Frank's planned confession crosses his mind, but again he decides that the time is wrong. At her prompting, Frank shows Helen the book that he checked out of the library. It is about Napoleon. Helen tells him that the book that she is reading is The Idiot. Frank prefers non-fiction to fiction. Frank tells her that he finished high school at night and did not go to college because he got a job. Helen tells him that she did not go to college because her mother and father needed financial help. She would like to go to college. Frank tells her that he also wants to go. He is thoughtful for a while, then tells her what he just remembered. He was involved once with a girl who worked in a carnival with him. They had just finally become close when she was in a terrible accident in which her neck was broken. After Helen returns to the store and goes upstairs, she wonders if she should believe what he said regarding wanting to go to college. And, she wonders why he told her the sad story about the carnival girl. She becomes more interested in him, although not without confusion.

Notes

Frank livens up the bland lives of Morris and Helen. But, what will they receive from him? Will it be good or bad? At this point it is difficult to tell. There is a possibility that he will step into the roles of son for Morris and lover for Helen. Morris is already treating Frank like a son when he plays the part of teacher, not only in how to operate the store, but in how to live.

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